What Is Commencement
In College?

Amanda Hoyle, M.Ed., Psy.M. • 10 Minute Read

Looking back to freshman year, the year of many firsts - first college lecture, first football game, first college exam, the different ways your fashion trends have evolved till this point.

It has been quite a journey to be this close to your academic finish line. A commencement ceremony is a way of honoring students for reaching this milestone. A commencement ceremony is commonly confused with graduation, but they are actually different. Graduating after participating in the commencement ceremony is not automatic.

Learn more about commencement ceremonies, what they are and what they mean for you as a college student, below.

What Is A Commencement Ceremony

In a commencement ceremony, students expected to have completed all academic requirements by the end of the academic year are celebrated. All University degrees are conferred during the commencement ceremony. To graduate, students have to apply for it and then assigned bodies such as advisors and registrar will examine and certify that all requirements have been satisfactorily met.

In Universities like Yale, during the ceremony, the dean of the College and deans of the graduate and professional schools formally present their approved candidates to the president. The president, in turn, confers the degrees and admits students to each degree’s “rights and responsibilities.” 

The order of event for a commencement ceremony typically involves a procession, reciting the National Anthem, the Introduction of Graduating Class Representative and then his/her speech follows, Introduction of Keynote speaker and presentation of a Commencement address, Presentation of students for undergraduate and graduate degrees.

The College usually invites notable people in the society to deliver the commencement speech. The entire ceremony lasts roughly two hours depending on the school and number of students. Attendance at the commencement ceremony is optional in most Institutions, but most students choose to attend.

It is a honoring event most students look up to. All students on track to finish their degree requirements get an invite to the ceremony as well as guest tickets for family and friends. The number of guests allowed per student differs per College Institution. The event could be indoor or outdoor. But, more Institutions are beginning to have their ceremonies outdoors so as to accommodate family and friends of students whilst still giving room for social distancing.

Preparing For Commencement Ceremony

It’s no easy feat, getting up to this stage all the way from your freshman year. It is only imperative that you make the best use of this day and create memories that cause your heart to smile in the future.

  1. You typically get the chance to invite some of your family and friends into the hall for the ceremony. Make sure to tell them early on so they can clear their schedule for the event. Tickets aren’t available at the ceremony, so make sure to get them early before they run out.
  2. Getting your Regalia: The academic regalia is different for different degree certificates and officials officiating in the ceremony. Your school should link you up with where to get your regalia from. Make sure to check that the regalia is in good shape before renting.
  3. Make the best use of rehearsals: Your College might organize a commencement rehearsal. It might take about 2 hours to complete, depending on the size of the graduating class. The essence of it is so you understand the procedures and protocol. It’s advisable for students and new staff to attend and pay attention so they don’t miss the details. Details like how to make an entrance and how your name is pronounced phonetically will be addressed in some way in the rehearsal.
  4. Book a Photographer: Well, in recent times handshakes are no longer a thing during commencement ceremonies. Due to COVID-19, your College will let you know of the alternative they choose; it might be a bow. There is usually a photographer in the hall who takes pictures of every student called to the stage. But, you probably want to get a personal photographer also; to take pictures of you and also together with your wonderful family and friends.  This is not a necessary step however since you’ll find random photographers at the venue area.

What To Wear For The Commencement Ceremony

Even though the gown, hood and cap cover most parts of your body, you should still dress nice. A very few College Institutions’ give a dress/colour code. According to normal protocol, students are expected to put on professional business wear. Casual outfits are typically inappropriate for events like this. You can be stylish all you want but make sure it is something you’re comfortable in and won’t look rough underneath the regalia. Considering the academic regalia is just slightly below the knee, you need to wear something that looks orderly at the remainder of your leg. The regalia is very comfortable and is thick. You should consider the climate before deciding what to wear. If it's typically very hot, you shouldn't wear something thick as that is some extra layer of clothing that can cause you to sweat a little too much. If it's cold out there, you're free to wear something really thick inside. For shoes, comfort should be a priority so you don’t look weird while walking in it. 

Commencement Ceremony Etiquette

During the rehearsals, you might have been briefed on these etiquettes such as:

  1. Don’t be late: Coming after the commencement procession may hinder you from participating in the rest of the ceremony. So, sleep early and be up on time and ready for the ceremony. Asides that, finding a place to park your car can take plenty of time so it will do you greater good to be extra early.
  2. Stage behaviour: It is a very happy moment for you and you might feel like dancing or shouting but that is considered inappropriate. Follow through with what has been rehearsed previously. Refrain from extreme outbursts of excitement.
  3. Give personal items to family members: If you’re a parent, you should make sure you have someone to take care of your child as you typically won’t be allowed to take a child on stage. Take a few personal belongings for security sake. If you have any extra, it is best to give it to your family member to keep for you. You can just have your phone in your hand. Other things like cameras or purses should be in the care of others.
  4. All phones on Silence: You don’t want your phone ringing out loud in the ceremony. Tell your friends/family to keep theirs on silent or switched off also. You can receive or make phone calls after the event.
  5. No eating while the ceremony is taking place: Silence is encouraged during the ceremony. It is advised that you eat something before the ceremony so you don’t get hungry in the event, as it might take a while.
  6. Seating arrangements: While it will be fun to sit next to your friends, some protocols might not allow that. It is best you sit on the seat number assigned to you as students are called in a particular order.

You've almost reached the academic finish line, and it truly is a big deal. But sometimes, commencement might be the last thing on your mind- You just can’t wait to venture out into the real world or just take a long-deserving break. Going for the commencement ceremony will always be worth it. It is an opportunity to end this chapter of your life before moving to the next one.

The idea of sitting for hours listening to speeches that might even be boring doesn’t sound nice to you; but, you get to do this only once and you don’t want to miss what could be your last school experience. See it as a grand way of transitioning into the real world just before you begin your dream career. It is a cherishable moment. Before you start a new phase or let the anxiety of the future kick in, celebrate this huge milestone.

However, in the event you cannot make it to the commencement ceremony, you should get full details from your advisor on it’s consequences. Even though attendance is mostly optional, some institutions require you to fill out a commencement ceremony excuse form so as not to jeopardize your chances of graduating on time.

Play your part to ensure the ceremony goes in order. In the occasion of any disability, the protocol to take will be addressed during the rehearsals also. And don't forget to get a briefing on how to join your School's Alumni groups.

After the ceremony, you have all the permission to let out all your outbursts of excitement. It is a proud moment and you should absolutely celebrate it. It has been a journey through College, and arriving at the stage of the commencement ceremony must have taken a lot of hard work and grit on your part. Make as many memories as you can. Take a lot of pictures with your colleagues, family and friends or even have lunch/dinner with them to celebrate (If you can afford it). Party how long you want. And if you’re a guest, getting a gift such as money, flowers or just anything the student might like will be a very thoughtful thing to do.

Amanda Hoyle, M.Ed., Psy.M
Amanda is a proficient and widely published educational leader, with Master's degrees in both Education and Psychology.
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Amanda Hoyle, M.Ed., Psy.M
Amanda is a proficient and widely published educational leader, with Master's degrees in both Education and Psychology.
Related Articles
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