Commencement v Graduation

Some similarities but quite a few differences too


It’s that time of year again. Well, almost. It’s commencement season in the USA and will be graduation season in the UK in about six weeks or so. A couple of years ago I blogged on the issue of US v UK graduation experiences (and used the same picture too), noting that whereas in the UK it was common for multiple ceremonies to take place over a week (or two) and feature individual handshaking, in the US commencement tends to be a big bang event, often held in a stadium with everyone present being deemed to have graduated by the person officiating. An even older post on a report of a Harvard graduation offers a contrasting view of the nature of the collective experience.

I was reminded of both of these pieces by an enlightening story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the level of organisation required for commencement. And the additional effort required when the commencement speaker is particularly prominent (and Presidential). However, I especially liked these details about the grouping of commencement professionals, the novel ideas for improving attendance (not usually a problem in the UK) and the really rather strange rituals at Rutgers:

In early February, 300 commencement professionals and vendors gathered at the University of Texas at Austin for the 12th annual meeting of Naaco (say NAKE-oh), as the group is usually called.

In a session on commencement participation, Brian Anderson, a sales manager for the graduation-products vendor Jostens Inc., said graduates who most often skip their commencements say they do so because the ceremonies are too long or and their families aren’t attending. He asked his listeners to describe what their campuses had done to make their ceremonies more attractive. Among the solutions: low-cost overnight campus housing for family members, events like lobster bakes and riverboat cruises, and graduation scholarships for distance-ed students to offset their travel costs.

Christopher R. Retzko, manager of special events and programs at Rutgers University at New Brunswick, said his institution had revamped its universitywide ceremony “to give everyone the permission to have fun.” Rutgers, he said, has what may be the world’s loudest commencement.

Not shaped like a pill. Sadly

The faculty and students of each separate school are equipped with noisemakers that symbolize their group: Last year graduates of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences rattled green cowbells. The School of Communication carried megaphones. This year the School of Pharmacy will blow pill-shaped whistles. At the end of the ceremony, each school takes turns rising en masse and cutting loose with its noisemakers.

I’m not sure we’ll be following this lead.

1 thought on “Commencement v Graduation

  1. At Liverpool Hope University we adopted – about three years ago – the concept of a Commencement Assembly for students in their first week at University. It’s a formal ceremony with parents incited to introduce students to the world of HE

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