How does a graduation ceremony work?

Written by pauline gill
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How does a graduation ceremony work?
The mortarboard and scroll feature in all graduation ceremonies. (ClickArt by Broderbund)

Most societies recognise the rite of passage, when a person enters a new stage in life. Marriage is a rite of passage, and graduation from high school or college is also a rite of passage. Most ceremonies honouring this new stage of life include rituals. The traditional graduation ceremony includes marching to Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 by Sir Edward Elgar, who inspired the music when he received an Honorary Doctor of Music degree at Yale in 1905. Princeton followed with the music in 1907. Soon, the tradition caught on throughout the country. The mortar board and gown have a long history, dating back to medieval clergy and European universities. In 1895, American institutes formed the Intercollegiate Commission, which standardised the academic dress. Today, students still march into the auditorium wearing the cap and gown and marching to Pomp and Circumstance.

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Brief History of the Traditional Graduation Ceremony

Most societies recognise the rite of passage, when a person enters a new stage in life. Marriage is a rite of passage, and graduation from university is also a rite of passage. Most ceremonies honouring this new stage of life include rituals. The traditional graduation ceremony includes a procession to inspiring music, such as Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 by Sir Edward Elgar, who inspired the music when he received an Honorary Doctor of Music degree at Yale in 1905. The mortar board and gown have a long history, dating back to medieval clergy and European universities.

The graduation ceremony

The faculty usually marches into a gymnasium or auditorium ahead of the graduating class. Professors wear their academia clothing. Once the faculty sits, the procession begins with the graduate preceded by a ceremonial mace. The audience stands as the graduates enter. The class is guided in by class marshals, who direct them to their seats and guide them when to sit and stand. Chancellor of the university will welcome everyone to the ceremony. The names of each graduating student is then called out. The roll call is ordered either by classification of degree or by subject. When a student's name is called, he walks up on the stage where he receives his degree certificate from the Chancellor. Students may then shake hands with school board members or other faculty. This process gives students a moment when the stage belongs to them. The scroll each student receives is not her actual degree certificate. This is mailed out at a later date. Students then move their tassels from the right to the left, a symbol of rite of passage from student to graduate. Most ceremonies last 2 to 3 hours, depending upon how many graduates there are, the length of speeches and how many musical selections are performed.

Rite of passage

The rite of passage has three stages: separation, transition and incorporation. The student's journey is similar to these stages. For the graduate, separation is during the struggles of school, transition is the ceremony process, and incorporation is "turning the tassel." The ritual of graduation adds a touch of melancholy and pride to the rite of passage. Parents watch their children pass to a new stage of life, and graduates feel satisfied in their accomplishments.

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