New foundation to promote academic traditions

19 October 2021

Pictured is Bonnie Nilhamn together with Vice-Chancellor Anders Hagfeldt in front of the students’ massed standards in University House as part of the University’s birthday celebrations on 7 October.

Sisters Bonnie and Sandy Nilhamn have made donated money to a foundation they created for the promotion of academic traditions at Uppsala University. The principal purpose of the foundation will be to award scholarships to standard bearers.

“I have wanted to establish a scholarship for standard bearers ever since I was the Chair of the Standard Bearers’ Committee during my student days at Uppsala University,” explains Bonnie Nilhamn, who is now a doctoral student in Archaeology at the University of Helsinki.

The foundation, known as “Sisters Bonnie and Sandy Nilhamn’s foundation to promote the academic traditions of Uppsala University” will primarily promote the active massing of standards featuring standard bearers from all student nations and student unions affiliated with Uppsala University.

Both Bonnie and Sandy Nilhamn have previously been standard bearers for the Norrland Nation, as well as being active members of the Standard Bearers’ Committee’s executive.

Students’ massing of standards

“As a standard bearer, you are always there to help out, you try to always do your job, but sometimes you can’t afford to. You might need to dry clean your tailcoat or you might have lost your gloves – you have to cover all that yourself as a student. At the same time, standard bearers represent a distinguished tradition and are an important part of the University’s ceremonies that we should cherish.”

Standard bearers from Uppsala’s student nations and student unions join forces to form the students’ massing of standards. The massed standards participate in the University’s various ceremonies, such as doctoral award ceremonies and professorial inaugurations. They also usually participate at state visits when these incorporate Uppsala into their itineraries. The massed standards are also a feature of student ceremonies and Walpurgis celebrations at the end of April.

Happy memories of being a standard bearer

Bonnie Nilhamn recalls her own spell as a standard bearer at Uppsala University.

“I was chit-chatting with Kofi Annan, who was Secretary-General of the UN at the time, as we headed towards Dag Hammarskjöld’s grave to lay wreaths. I also remember the King often approaching me to talk because he recognised the Norrland standard – after all, he is the Duke of Jämtland. He once saved me from tripping while on the stairs in a procession where I was walking just ahead of him, and I stepped on the hem of my dress. He wanted to prevent the standard from falling to the floor, as he told me.

“When my sister and I talk about our student days, it’s our time as standard bearers that we always return to. The years I spent as vice chair and then chair of the Standard Bearers’ Committee were my best years at the University.

As a standard bearer, you get to participate in dinners at Uppsala Castle, although in the past standard bearers were not permitted to sit in the Hall of State but were confined to the smaller hall next door or were placed out on the balcony.

“As vice chair of the Standard Bearers’ Committee, I spoke to the University’s Academy Steward, Per Ström, and argued that the standard bearers should be seated in the main hall just like the marshals. And we were successful, which was just fantastic. I think that’s probably the thing that I am most proud of from my time as a standard bearer.”

Standard bearer scholarships

Thinking about their time as standard bearers, sisters Bonnie and Sandy Nilhamn decided to donate half a million kronor to a foundation for the promotion of academic traditions at Uppsala University.

“We had money to spare, and the amount is about the same as the price of a new Volvo. This is something very close to my heart, so I’m quite happy to keep my old car instead,” says Bonnie Nilhamn with a smile.

Returns from the foundation's investments will fund two or more scholarships for people who have actively participated in upholding academic traditions.

“The idea is that these scholarships will be primarily for standard bearers, although they may also go to other people who have upheld academic traditions in other ways. There will be a bigger scholarship for someone who has earned it through their commitment, and a smaller scholarship intended to encourage standard bearers who need support for things such as clothing care.”

“Aren’t you rather young to be making a donation and establishing a foundation?”
“Well, I suppose most people leave bequests in their wills and the money gets handed over on their death. But my sister and I think it is more gratifying to use the money now than later to feel that we have an active connection to Uppsala University.”

Foundation for academic traditions

The funds from the “Sisters Bonnie and Sandy Nilhamn’s foundation to promote the academic traditions of Uppsala University” will be managed by the Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds, which is also responsible for managing all other foundations affiliated with Uppsala University. Decisions on the award of scholarships are made by the Chair of the Standard Bearers’ Committee, the students’ senior marshal and the University’s Academy Steward.

The tradition of standards representing the student nations of Uppsala began in the early nineteenth century. The first occasion on which all thirteen student nations were represented with their own standards was in 1843. The indoor standards, as shown in the picture, are made of embroidered silk. When used outdoors, storming standards are used, as these are smaller and more resilient.

The Standard Bearers’ Committee is a sub-committee of the Kuratorskonventet. The Kuratorskonventet is in turn the collaborative body for Uppsala University’s thirteen student nations.

Last modified: 2021-02-14