The Aula is a thing of the past

Doors were closed by Rector Magnificus Arthur Mol and beadle Renata Michel.
Photo Guy Ackermans

Beadle Renata Michel certainly had goose bumps when she entered the hall in a professional capacity for the last time. Overseeing yesterday afternoon’s final ceremony in the large auditorium of the Aula marked the end of an era.

The final curtain fell around 5 o’clock, almost 87 years to the day that it first opened. WUR will no longer be visibly and physically present in the centre of the city.

The final ceremony was the inauguration of Operations Research and Logistics Professor Sander de Leeuw. Afterward, Mol said a few words to send off the auditorium. He reminded the audience of the over 800 inaugurations and over 8,000 PhD graduations that have taken place here since it opened in 1935 and more than 50,000 students came here to collect their diplomas.


Mol recalled that the peace treaty was signed here in 1945, the student occupation — which included himself — in 1984, and the memorial service for Virology Professor Rob Goldbach who was killed by an elephant while on holiday in India in 2009. Many of the current WUR staff members are part of the history of the Aula, be it as student, PhD graduate, or professor.

I have always felt that the ceremony combined with the organ was very special

Gonny van der Maten, organist in the Aula

In the future, the ceremonies will take place on campus, in Omnia. The first one will be a PhD graduation on 10 May. Organist Gonny van der Maten will not be there for it. The organ has been left behind. It means that with the departure from the Aula, her job will also be lost. Together with Dik Sipma she provided organ music for the inaugurations and diploma award ceremonies. She thinks that it is a pity that this tradition will be lost.


‘I have always thought that the ceremony combined with the organ was very special’, she says. ‘No other university in the Netherlands has it. We proposed continuing in Omnia with a small box organ, but it was rejected.’ However, music will continue to be a part of the ceremonies. Pairs of students from the student choir and orchestra WSKOV will provide musical accompaniment at the inaugurations and diploma ceremonies in rotation.

What will happen to the organ itself is still unclear. It is unlikely that there will be space for the organ in the new function of the Aula (a cinema). That is on Van der Maten’s mind as well. She knows that the instrument does not have any major historical value. ‘But it remains an organ, right.’ As a farewell, she plays Vera Lynn’s classic: We’ll meet again. Then she closes the keyboard for the last time.

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