With graduation season approaching, you’re probably starting to think about preparations for the big day. Remember when you first arrived at uni? Perhaps your mum embarrassed you by crying or you had packed so much stuff that it wouldn’t all fit into your tiny university bedroom?! However your first day went, it’s surely a day you’ll never forget. And the same goes for your final day: the graduation ceremony. So, to get you into the spirit of things, here are five things you didn’t know about graduation day.
Graduation ceremonies follow a tradition that has evolved over centuries. The very first graduation ceremonies for students date back to the first universities in Europe in the 12th century. During that time, Latin was the language used for academic studies; in fact, the Latin word ‘gradus’ means ‘step’, hence the term graduate.
The first step was a bachelor’s degree and the second was a "universitas". Students could achieve a "universitas" which was a type of Masters Degree with a license to teach. Traditional graduation attire, including gowns, hats and hoods, was based on the clothing worn by university staff in the middle ages.
Although university life and subjects studied have changed over time, the main principle of the graduation ceremony remains: the graduate is taking a ‘step’ towards adulthood, marking the completion of their studies and celebrating their success.
So now you’ve found out a brief history of the graduation ceremony, you may still be wondering why graduation is celebrated in such a way.
When something big or important happens in life, we tend to get dressed up and have a party. Graduation is no different. Graduating from university is the end of an important chapter in your life, and also the beginning of an exciting new chapter. You’ve worked hard (and probably partied hard too) so now it’s time to celebrate your accomplishments and share these successes with your loved ones.
Your parents will no doubt take hundreds of photographs and cheer when your name is called to go up on stage. For them, your graduation might be a sign that you’ve finally become an adult, i.e. you can now get a job and stop scrounging off them! So, when you walk up on stage, imagine you are literally walking into the next chapter of your life - not that we’re trying to frighten you or anything!
Completing your university degree is a significant milestone in your life and wearing the traditional graduation attire is part of the celebration of your success. The hat and gown symbolise recognition and achievement. Indeed, they should be worn with pride and will of course feature in your graduation photographs, which will soon take pride of place on your parents’ and grandparents’ walls!
But where do these traditional hats and gowns come from? Wearing the graduation cap and gown whilst making the transition between an undergrad and a graduate dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Many professors were priests, monks or clerics, which explains the style of dress, and historians also believe that scholars wore long robes simply to keep warm in unheated buildings!
Wearing a gown with a hood also has historical significance: Druid priests wore capes with hoods to demonstrate their superior knowledge. Therefore, the academic hood on your graduation dress symbolises the superior knowledge you have gained throughout your studies!
Mortarboard caps have a unique square shape which makes them easily recognisable. Mortarboards are thought to have been developed during the 15th century from a type of hat known as a biretta, worn in the Catholic church.
As the cap evolved, it became known as a mortarboard, purely because of its shape and design. Therefore mortarboard gets its name from a flat board which was used by bricklayers to lay mortar, because that’s what it resembles!
We also have another theory that the name was chosen because of the way it cements your hair to your head whilst wearing it, causing an extreme case of hat hair or mortarboard hair! Not attractive. We recommend keeping the mortarboard on your head at all times unless you are throwing it in the air of course…
To complete the list of 5 things you didn’t know about graduation day, let’s focus on the actual ceremony. After studying for three years, or maybe even longer, there’s been quite a dramatic build-up to graduation day. So it’s completely natural to be feeling nervous, excited, overwhelmed….or maybe in a slight state of panic! You’ve probably imagined walking up on stage to collect your award, in front of family, tutors and peers (try not to trip over), but what else actually happens on the big day?
The graduation ceremony length is usually about an hour and a half, but getting everyone seated at the beginning will add on a bit more time. You will also probably be allocated a certain time to collect your graduation attire, or will at least need some time to make sure your robe, hood and hat are positioned and secured correctly. You want to be smart but comfortable! The ceremony will include a lot of clapping and photography flashes, as each student will have their picture taken as they shake hands with the Chancellor and collect their award. Cue cheesy grins, cheers and proud tears.
Once all graduates have received their awards, the Master of Ceremonies will invite the guest speaker to talk. After the ceremony, there is often bubbly and nibbles, photograph opportunities and time to mingle with family and friends. Let the celebrations begin!
Feeling anxious? Remember to feel excited too. You’ve managed to get through years of independent study, you’ve probably passed lots of exams and written a really long dissertation, not to mention learning to survive without mum and dad in a new city!
Reflect on all the cool things you have achieved during the last few years and use that confidence to get you through graduation day. If all else fails, just remember to breathe, walk slowly across the stage and smile for the photos. Good luck!
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