Sunday, May 15, 2016


It’s graduation season, which means that college graduations, program graduations, pinning ceremonies, and the like are upon us.  I’ve been through enough of them at this point -- from the varying perspectives of participant, spectator, and platform party -- to have some comparative, if opinionated, perspective.

I’ve already written about graduation speakers, so here I’ll just focus on the ceremony.

First, the regalia.  I’m very pro-regalia.  Yes, it’s sort of silly, but it conveys the message that the day is special.  Also, gowns are quite forgiving; not to brag, but I still fit in the gown I wore in 1997.  I’m a fan of the faculty and administration wearing gowns in the colors of their doctoral institutions, since it makes for a more interesting visual palette than a sea of uniform black (though black can be slimming).  And the moment when the students move their tassels from right to left is lovely.

Name reading.  I’ve seen ceremonies with multiple readers, and ceremonies with single readers.  The best ones, I think, are male/female pairs, which the readers switching off.  Varying voices keeps the audience from getting bored.  My favorites have been when the name readers come from the faculty.  Given the point of the enterprise, it makes sense that faculty should have a speaking role at graduation.  And when you have pairs of faculty doing it, they can plan so when one person’s student comes up, the other can read the name, so the one whose student it is can give a hug or a high-five.  

Selfie sticks.  No.  Just, no.

Strutting up the walkway.  I say, go for it.  By the time we get to the students walking, they’ve already been listening to various speakers for a while, and everyone is a little antsy.  The point of the day is celebration, and some exuberance straining against the boundaries of the ceremony is to the good.  Live a little.  The same goes for enthusiastic cheering sections for individual students.  No air horns -- that’s just gauche -- but some coordinated cheers are morale boosting for the student and comic relief for everyone else.  

Pledge of allegiance/national anthem.  I’ve seen ceremonies in which everyone removed their caps and held them on their hearts, like baseball caps.  I’ve also seen ceremonies in which the caps stay on.  I don’t know the “rule,” but each place seems to have its own variation.  At the Culinary graduation last week, I noticed the chefs kept their chef hats on during the pledge.  I’m not sure what the “rule” is there, either.  I’ll admit that I have to fight the urge to yell “Play Ball!” at the end of the anthem.  I don’t remember ceremonies featuring either the pledge or the anthem before 9/11, so the issue didn’t come up.  

Cap decoration.  For faculty and administration, no.  For students, yes.  My favorites are either the purely celebratory or the clever.  At this point, you’re a college graduate; show some wit.  At Brookdale’s celebration, one student had the chemical structure for caffeine on her cap.  That’s how it’s done.

Outdoors/Indoors.  Outdoors offers potentially infinite seating, and allows for little kids to run around when they’re bored.  That said, outdoors also means you’re at the mercy of the weather.  Heat and humidity don’t go well with multiple layers.  At Holyoke we used a huge wedding tent for a few years after the fire marshall said the gym was too small.  The tent had its virtues, but the acoustics were terrible and we had to keep our fingers crossed that there wouldn’t be lightning, since it wasn’t grounded.  One year a small swarm of bees made its way onto the platform, which added some suspense to the proceedings.  If you’re holding the event on a soccer field or something similar, there’s a very real danger of mud.  That’s a nuisance for high heels, but a disaster for wheelchairs.  Also, port-a-potties are gross.  I’m a fan of indoors, where you have air conditioning, real bathrooms, flat/dry floors, and a decent sound system.  If it’s a nice day, you can always have the post-ceremony reception outside.

Saturday or Sunday ceremonies.  Not a fan.  By the end of the semester, the faculty and staff are fried.  Have the decency to hold the ceremony on a weekday.

Tight controls on tickets.  If you can avoid it, avoid it.  Community college students are sometimes the first in the extended family to graduate from college, and the extended family wants to see it.  This should be encouraged.  (As a frustrated student once put it, “YOU tell Grandma she can’t come!”)  If that means springing for a larger venue, as Holyoke did, or having two separate ceremonies, as Brookdale did, then do it.  Yes, there’s an upfront cost, but the goodwill generated in the community is powerful.  And when little kids cheer their parents as they walk across the stage, well, if you don’t like that, there’s just something wrong with you.  

The shoes!  Watching the variety of footwear as students walk across the stage is always fun.  
That said, I’ve advise students against flip-flops.  Show at least a little effort.  If the ceremony is outdoors and it looks like rain, you might want to go with flats.  (See “mud,” above.)

Finally, length.  As with the advice for graduation speakers, brevity is your friend.  If a ceremony drones on for too long, people start to leave, and the students towards the end get shortchanged.  Besides, the chairs are uncomfortable and the gowns are hot.  Shoot for no more than two hours total.

Wise and worldly readers, what would you add?