Tuesday, May 22, 2007



Why do students who aren't really graduating beg to 'walk' at the graduation ceremony?

Do they think nobody will know? Do they think it counts anyway? Don't their consciences nag at them? (I imagine “pomp and circumstance” playing in the back of someone's mind for the rest of his life, like the telltale heart.)

I'd feel like a colossal fraud.

I could understand if a college made it a usual practice to 'walk' summer grads in spring, just so they could save on ceremonies. (High School Friend on Right Ocean 'walked' for his doctorate a full year in advance of actually receiving it, based on some very weird circumstances involving getting his adviser back in the right hemisphere. But that was for a reason.) Proprietary U insisted on running three full graduations a year, and made it mandatory for faculty to attend two (and deans to attend all three). It was a real pain, and not inexpensive. And even there, with graduations rolling around every few months, students would beg to walk immediately, even if they had to retake classes the following semester.

(A side note on graduation etiquette: since 9/11, they've all involved the national anthem. It seems rude to leave the mortarboard on during the anthem, but it seems ridiculous to put it over your heart like a baseball cap. What's the etiquette here? I've gone with the baseball cap method, on the theory that it's the less offensive, but it still strikes me as incongruous.)

Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, graduations were relatively rare. You'd have one from high school, another from college, and one from grad school. Now you get them from preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, etc. I've heard of professors doing 'graduations' on the last day of each class. I see no good coming from graduation inflation. It debases the currency.

In a pinch, I suppose I could understand the kid who just found out two days before the ceremony that he didn't make it, but his family already bought the tickets to fly in from several time zones away. But that's rarely the case at a cc. These folks are local; I'd be surprised if many had to drive more than an hour. The students who claim they had no idea usually should have known months in advance, if not longer. And any kid who thinks he's fooling his family is in for a rude shock when the family gets a tuition bill for the following semester.

Wise and worldly readers – why do non-grads want to walk?

Because they think of themselves as "belonging" to the class of XXXX.

That's their cohort and they need the symbol of moving on with them, the ceremonial closure that comes with it. Even if they're not really done.

Then again, I've never really wanted to walk ever. I've tried to skip all of them but my parents keep buying plane tickets before I can tell them not to.
As a newly minted VP of Student Development, I’ve seen two occurrences of this phenomenon. First is emotional blackmail: “You’re taking my degree from me if I don’t walk in front of all of my family and friends.” My response? You should have thought about that while you were skipping all of those classes and ditching all of the assignments.

Second, and most disturbing is ignorance: Students actually believe that if they walk across the stage, we will give them their degree anyway. Our registrar tells of students who come to get their transcripts and can’t understand why it doesn’t say “Graduate” on it. “But I walked across the stage!” Her response, “yeah, but you flunked the two classes you registered for in the summer and needed to graduate.
Yeah, I'm with tfc. I think people want to do it to be with their friends--to celebrate that moment with them, instead of with people the next year that they aren't friends with. I can understand it. (On the other hand, my sister actually graduated half a year before her entering class, and she asked to walk with the class of the year before because her boyfriend was graduating.)
On the mortarboard question: I've been given to understand that the etiquitte is to leave them on. The main reason is because women often use pins to secure the morterboard on top of their hair, so half the group would be unable to remove them, and it would look quite weird for all the guys to suddenly remove their mortarboards.
I agree with TFC. At Fancy Pants U, students who took a leave of absence for a semester (to save starving orphans or travel abroad) can choose whether to walk with their "social" class--most people I know who took time off walked with their "social" class, rather than waiting until they had actually received their degree.

To me, graduation is just a bit of hokey theater. Lee and I both skipped the bulk of our undergrad festivities (though we did do the diploma receiving ceremony). Neither of us attended the graduation ceremonies for our graduate degrees. Part of the reason why I felt no desire to attend graduation is that I took a long leave of absence in the middle of my schooling, and had no sense of connection with the group of people walking. That, and it's hokey theater.

But that hokey theater has got to be pretty meaningful for people who feel like they struggled to get to that point. I wonder how many people get themselves through rough spots by visualizing themselves in a mortarboard and gown.
Anonymous #2, women traditionally aren't required to take their hats off as a mark of respect when men are (on entering church, hearing the national anthem, etc.), and your reasoning is exactly why -- over the last couple of hundred years, women have often worn their hats pinned to their heads.

According to Herff Jones (the graduation supply people):

"Should the cap be removed anytime during the graduation ceremony?
Only men should remove their caps and that should be during the playing of the National Anthem and the school song."
Re: hat etiquette during the national anthem, traditionally women are not required to remove hats to demonstrate respect for the flag, particularly in formal situations. A brief glance at some etiquette pages on the internet reveals that one reason for this is the hat-pin question. Some sites suggest that in non-formal hat-wear, women should also remove their hats, but I've noticed that at baseball games where I live that women don't tend to remove their hats to show respect during the anthem still. Perhaps I live in a backwater that's behind the times, but traditionally women don't remove hats/men do.

All of this is a long way of saying that at my university that is the protocol during the anthem - men remove them, women do not.

As for why walk when you're not done, I think a lot of it is that once you've got your whole family coming to graduation, it's horrible to have to say, "woops! not until 6 months from now!"

Especially in first-generation-to-go-to-college families, parties are planned and stuff well in advance of the event. It would cause a lot of conflict not to walk. So the student thinks, "why not just get the walking over with and I'll take those two classes in the next semester and make it official?"

Honestly, I don't really see the big deal about this - but perhaps I'm more sympathetic because I wasn't allowed to walk in my PhD graduation until nearly a full year after I defended, two years since I lived in PhD city, and an academic year after I'd already had a job and had received my degree in the mail. Yes, my parents forced me to walk. Yes, it was totally irritating. No, it did not make the ceremony more meaningful - in fact, it made it virtually meaningless.
I would add to the discussion of mortarboard/hat etiquette that in the case of indoor ceremonies, men should remove their head coverings upon entering the main room of the ceremony. Some remove it only during prayers (sorry private institution--but, hey, no national anthem!), but they should be removed for the entirety of the cermony. Women may keep their hats on at all times (as is allowed in all circumstances except special ones).

The colleague I sat near this year kept removing his and then putting it back on through the whole ceremony. That seems especially odd.
Yep, men remove them, women keep them on.

As for the "why walk" question, first and foremost I agree with TFC. Graduation is about celebrating with friends, and these are the people they started with, so it only feels right to 'finish' with them.

The other answer is probably a financial/scheduling one. If the student only has a summer course left to finish, or is about to start a job, s/he probably doesn't want to/can't afford to wait around for the next ceremony. This is particularly true of international students or students from the other side of the country.
In our situation we have one commencement ceremony each year. It is in May and all those who completed the previous December, that May, or will complete the following summer walk in May. We don't expect people to come back the following May to walk when they complete in the summer and (according to the statistics) find gainful employment in some other state and move away.

When I finished my master's degree I was at an institution that had a December ceremony. I finished in the fall semester and chose not to walk because it just didn't seem as "important" as the May ceremony. Less pomp. Less circumstance. Most of the campus didn't know about it or care. Based on that experience I like doing it once in May.
At my uni we're not allowed to participate in graduation unless we have graduated...logical, but sad (in the normal sense of the world).
I'm fairly sure that women keep their hats on as a mark of respect not because of any hat-pin issue, but because from medieval times (maybe earlier) to the 1950s/70s, the (originally Catholic?) rule has been that respectable women cover their hair, especially when entering a church, and that has carried over to other ceremonies. Probably something to do with loose uncovered hair carrying sexual connotations--I would expect that in 700 AD, women were very adept at using a hat-pin even without a mirror, and saving them some hassle would not have been considered.

Anyhow, does the "social class" issue apply to a CC? I would expect that so many people are coming in and out, people going part-time, that friends may be spread all over the place and graduating at different times anyhow, and do CCs go out of their way to build the sort of class unity that a Fancy Pants U would? But I may be wrong there. Education appreciated.
Our students all receive blank diplomas, as we don't REALLY know if they graduated until a day or two after walking.

Having said that, I've heard of students who did the "bogus walk" and apparently their visiting family NEVER knew they didn't graduate. It was a charade, which they attempted to try to keep going for that "one more semester" while taking those makeup classes.
My students often beg to walk because they don't want their friends to know they flunked that last class, or didn't finish a requirement. By walking they can save face, and then come back to finish up (or not, as is often their choice) that last class.
Yep. In my experience, many of the people who want to walk "anyway" are just lying to various other people around them, and don't want to get caught in the lie.
I am becoming increasingly concerned at how much fraud is not just tolerated but encouraged nowadays.

The graduation ceremony is for people who are graduating. If a student KNOWS beforehand they will not be graduating, why should any official ALLOW them to participate?

Most of these cases are not the "Oops...I failed that final exam and didn't pass the class" thing.
Why do students want to look like they graduated, when that's untrue?

For the same reason students (and even some depts I have seen) now put degrees on their resumes and CVs that they haven't yet received.*

A sense of entitlement.

A hope that if they can claim something not earned (we used to call this fraud) long enough, often enough, and publicly enough, they can badger officials into giving it.

My question is, Why do faculty and administrators condone it?

*I was told by students "Everyone/ my advisor/ my writing instructor says to do this" when in a senior 'career' seminar, I told them that the word "expected" and the date should appear no more than one line away from their claimed BS, MS, etc. I appear to be in the minority, at least within universities, in taking a dim view of those who claim unearned degrees at the top of the CV and then bury that status far, far down the page.

I see from several recent department grants and webpages that they now list all grad students as M.S., Ph.D, etc., when that is only what they are working toward.

I earned my M.A. years ago and am now a PhD candidate (and I bloody earned that status). Shall I list myself as a PhD? If I list myself as an M.A., what separates me from the first-semester graduate student also now listing him/herself as an MA/MS?
If you're going to school for a credential and/or to make your folks happy, why wouldn't that thinking apply to the trappings of completion?
I agree with tfc. This is why I think high school students, especially, should be allowed to participate in commencement.

About women wearing hats: "Dance" is on the right track, but it dates all the way back to the Bible 1st Corinthians chapter 11 verses 4-5: "Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is one and the same thing as having a shaved head." At least some modern Bible commentators believe that the head covering was a symbol of respect and that the modern equivalent is to dress modestly in church.
Well, supposing I do manage to do the equivalent of a Triple Lindy Dive and get the VA, the State-Funded University but not the Main One and my tottering IT infrastructure to coordinate in finishing my Master's this summer--I really don't give a rat's behind when I walk, or really if I walk at all. That's not to say the degree isn't important; anything that's cost this much in time and effort (and lost wages) is freakin' important. And I would like to walk whenever S-FUbntMO deems it appropriate (which may or may not be the ceremony directly following the summer semester, if for no other reason than because NOTHING ELSE HAS GONE AS PLANNED!).
My wife and parents, on the other hand, who have been supportive throughout the ordeal, want me to walk, preferably some time yesterday, as it's really not my fault this hasn't happened yet and they seriously begrudge any delays in my appearance in silly costume.
So far as the anthem goes, holding one's hat over one's heart is incorrect, as protocol requires one to stand at attention (something that people are apparently unaware or incapable of) and place one's headgear at the left shoulder so that the hand is over one's heart (source: www.usflag.org). Having played football and understanding that certain kinds of headgear make this unwieldy, I would recommend finding a suitable place to lay your mortarboard during the anthem well in advance; just remember to pick it up (and since you're the dean, print the stuff about proper etiquette in the program; you're not there just to educate the students, you know).
Speaking as someone who walked "fraudulently" for my masters, and still managed to somehow go on to get my Ph.D and find myself attending my students' graduations now, I think DD, claudia, and the_myth need to relax.

tfc had it right. We spend years of our lives with a certain group of people, and whether we pass class X (or get our advisor to sign off in time) or not doesn't change that. Will there be bad apples, who think that they "deserve" their diploma anyway, even if they haven't finished? Sure. But there will be lots more people like me who are quite aware of what that blank sheet of paper means. The "fraudulent" walkers still have to come back and finish. That's punishment enough--to deny them the _one_ chance they will have to walk with the people they belong with strikes me as caring too much about rules and not enough about people.
Anonymous: I empathize with your point of view but I respectfully disagree with the conclusion. You have plenty of occasions to walk with the people who matter to you. Whether one of those should be at a commencement ceremony for the degree that you haven't yet completed is a different matter.

It's one thing if all the requirements are finished and it's just a matter of certification. That strikes me as similar to the custom of addressing a Ph.D. candidate who has completed the final oral defense successfully as "doctor." The custom also holds that the candidate should not yet address himself or herself by that title. In those circumstances, walking at commencement seems in the spirit of the event.

It's another matter if there are still requirements left unmet, and not simply uncertified. I don't think that it is "caring too much about rules and not enough about people" to think that one shouldn't march at commencement if one hasn't finished the work for the degree. I think it's a matter of believing that the ceremony should really mean what it ostensibly means, that it should not just be another forum for social bonding.
As with others, my institution has only one graduation a year--also in May--and it's either then or (generally) not at all. If we did summer and December graduations, I suspect we'd do things differently.

As for the national anthem, I really wish it never got played. I don't care for the song, I don't care for the sentiments expressed. I try to remain as inconspicupus as possible.
Anonymous said:
"That's punishment enough--to deny them the _one_ chance they will have to walk with the people they belong with strikes me as caring too much about rules and not enough about people."

I am not surprised anonymous was insulted by being called out for what many of us feel to be inappropriate behavior. Nor am I surprised by the dismissive statement of "need to relax" as an elide for "shut up and mind your own business."

Anonymous, if you "walked" without having fulfilled all the requirements of your degree, you did not deserve that privelege [it's not a right] for the simple fact you hadn't earned your degree. Even one class left to take means you haven't completed the requirements.

I think you're just making excuses to justify your behavior. You chose to pretend you had your degree requirements met. As others have said, most schools have SEVERAL (usually 2) ceremonies, another of which you could attend. You speak as if there's ONE ceremony, and if you don't attend THAT ONE you never get another chance. Quite frankly, that's rarely the case.

To speak of not walking as punishment dismisses the true meaning of the ceremony itself. I think you need to consider that the Graduation Ceremony is supposed to be a ritual marker for the conclusion of education, not a big party for you to have with friends and family because you're ALMOST done.
Um, every single person who walked at my undergraduate ceremony was "ALMOST done," as their grades hadn't come through yet.

In fact, I walked, but the University messed up my graduation requirements and I didn't figure it out until a semester later, so my official graduation date is almost a year after I walked. I think you're overreacting.
Who is overreacting here? No one is talking about boycotting ceremonies.

I agree that having students who haven't earned a degree is fostering the increasingly prevalent attitude among students that they're purchasing four years of structured socialization that comes with no responsibilities. Walking people who didn't bother to, say, actually graduates cheapens it for the people who had their shit together.

But who are we mere professors to have an opinion on the subject? After all, "they pay our salaries!" If a student wants to walk early with the boyfriend who'll soon dump her for his 1L study partner, that's her right as a customer of my university...
I accidentally walked as a fraud for my BA... My last semester the over-worked adjunct teaching my last science class gave me an incomplete when I should have had an A.

Imagine my shock and panic a few weeks later when I got the letter from my uni telling me when I needed to complete my course in order to be listed as graduating with my class. It turns out that my instructor made a typo...

Generally, I agree that walking ought to be reserved for those who believe they've completed the degree. Taking time off, failing courses etc.. has a cost, delay of graduation.
I think people walk at all because their families get all worked up about it.

From there, if your school offers any choice in when to walk, it's a matter of picking the least fantastically inconvenient of those choices.
Oh, and at my school, the ceremonies tend to be held before the term ends. Almost no one in the ceremony has actually completed the degree because their courses haven't finished.

I like the esthetic sense of not having the ceremony until you actually have earned the degree, but I don't seriously expect students to finish their last term, go off into jobland, and then come back 6 months later to go through a graduation ceremony. So that brings us back to humoring the parental units by "walking" during that last term before it's over.
Why walk? It's expensive, boring, and bogus. I skipped every graduation ceremony since junior high (all four). I'm proud to say that my daughter just skipped her BA graduation.

A word of praise from someone you respect means a lot more.
I walked with my class when I had a half year still to go. I was going to be moving from an Atlantic port city to a Pacific port city to take a job, I didn't have a lot of money and I didn't want to take off work and come back East the next June. I'm glad I did it, and I think instituions should allow it.

-- Cardinal Fang
In response to Karen's question about why people want to walk at all, I just have to say that in my case my undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies were incredibly important to me because I was a high school dropout. The GED came in the mail from the state. There is something much less satisfying about opening an envelope as compared to being handed your degree by a faculty member or administrator who you know and respect (as was the case at my small, Catholic university). Despite the difference in the way the GED was bestowed, it still hangs proudly on the wall beside my degrees.
I studied in New Zealand, and our degrees are conferred in the Oxbridge tradition.

It is unthinkable here to "walk". The whole purpose of the ceremony is to "admit" you to the degree of Bachelor or Master.

The graduation ceremony itself is actually a meeting of the university for the conferrment of degrees of admission/membership (i.e. a change in your status)at the university. We begin the ceremony as a graduand (i.e. someone who has met the requirements for admission to the degree), and then at the actual moment the chancellor shakes your hand, and hands you the certificate (and at some universities, puts a cap on your head), you become a graduate.

The ceremony is also known as "capping". So, walking up to the stage, we carrying the trenchers (mortarboard hats) and put them on after receiving the degree. Only at the moment your name is called out do you actually graduate to the degree.

Thereafter, you are entitled to wear the academic dress (black gown, and hood appropriate to the degree. It goes back to the medieval college tradition.

The first step, when you enrol is to "matriculate" which is to be accepted as a student (after which you can wear a black gown - no one does these days!). Then at "capping" you are admitted to the degree of Bachelor of Something (and wear the appropriate academic hood - pale blue for law, gold for commerce where I studied) So I'm entitled to wear it again, should I choose to!

So our ceremonies reflect centuries old traditions, rather than a celebration party
I know of a case where a graduate wanted to walk (again) a year after he graduated. Why? Because he didn't like his photo with the dean! He wanted (but was denied) a do-over!
I don't know why people would want to walk knowing they have things to come back and finish up. I felt like a fraud walking at my graduation from CC last Friday night b/c although all courses were complete, and I did all my work....grades were not yet posted (for anyone). I kept thinking, how do I know I didn't just fail one of my required graduation courses?? The liklihood of this was basically impossible...I'm a 4.0 and was worried I might lose that this semester....but fail?? Not really any chance at all, but it still entered my mind during the ceremony.
I walked in my MSW grad ceremonies knowing full well I was one credit short and would be taking a summer course. I did so for several reasons:

1. Classes in the program were admitted as cohorts that took all courses together over the two-year period. You develop a certain camaraderie when you spend two years together in grad hell, and my friends would have been just as disappointed as me if I hadn’t walked with them.
2. The uni held grad ceremonies once per year, and I had no way of knowing if I would even be in the same town by the following May. And as a single parent, likely new in a job, with limited income, I couldn’t have traveled back for the ceremonies.
3. As the only HS grad in our family (and I missed my HS ceremonies due to illness) let alone the BSW and MSW, this was a very big deal for me.
4. There was no way I was going to miss my opportunity to walk publicly and have my kids in the audience watching mami graduate.

I made the best decision for me, I don’t feel the least bit guilty, and I’d do it the same way all over again.
Wow! Perhaps now I understand better why a very few of our students have, over the years, asked to walk when they have not completed the degree requirements. In the most spectacular instance a student who had been rusticated 2 years before showed up at convocation with the family and asked to walk. seems the family was entirely unaware the student had been thrown out years before.

At any rate, we cannot *ever8, under any circumstance allow a student to walk. The reason is that it is actually the walking and the statements "Convocation is now in session" and "Chancelor, I present to you the recipients of the degree XX, conferred today by the Univesity..." that are the performative acts that bestow the degree. Those who do not attend are covered under the "In absentia" clause. The paper one receives in the mail (or upon turning in one's gown) can only be handed out *after* the conferral of degrees at the ceremony.

If one is permitted to walk, then one would also be receiving the degree. (Imagine switching either member of the marrying couple for a member of the bridal party, announcing the name, and having the pronouncement. The effect would be to have married the wrong persons to each other). As an alternate example, there was a minor kerfuffle at the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer because she mis-uttered his name, reversing his middle ones, effectively making her vow to someone other than Charles.

So there you have it: the reasons why we do not permit students to walk, and the reason why Charles and Diana were doomed! :P

But in the US ceremonies, is the ceremony only a symbolic moment, and not an exacting/performative one?
Gosh - I didn't realise that in the US you graduate before even knowing whether you've passed or not(!)

That explains why people were saying congratulations to me when I was talking about the kerfuffle I was having over the organisation of graduation.

(In the UK, graduation ceremonies and disability discrimination are a hot topic, and unfortunately being at an old uni, the attitudes are some what backwards).
Gosh - I didn't realise that in the US you graduate before even knowing whether you've passed or not(!)

This is hardly universal. I've taught at 4 schools in the US, and at each one we rushed to get spring grades submitted in time to establish graduation.
Karen said, "Why walk? It's expensive, boring, and bogus."

I agree. I walked for my high school graduation, which was fine, but my BA graduation was simply lurid -- held in the gymnasium (not outdoors in a stadium, even though the weather was fine), fluorescent lighting, tacky pennants hanging everywhere, ugh. I wish I hadn't done it. I didn't walk for my MA or PhD. Luckily, my family was okay with this.
I walked when I hadn’t yet achieved my B.A. But we only had one graduation a year and I had to take a computer proficiency test to get my degree. I walked because it was one credit hour, and in a lot of ways because my parents wanted me to. They helped me pay my way through Small Obscenely Expensive Catholic College, and they expected it.

I don’t think, however, that if you’re not really done, ore really close to done, that you should get to walk. Most people at SOECC take more than four years to graduate anyway, and there’s always someone you know graduating. Thankfully, they are pretty strict about how ‘done’ one must be to walk, and be hooded.
I'm shocked that so few people actually don't know the origin of removing a male's hat during solemn moments. It is rooted in scripture where I Corinthians 11:14 states, "Every man who prays or professes with his head covered dishonors his head."

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