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Here comes the sun: Graduation 2019

It really is just about the happiest time of the university year. Paul Greatrix on graduation season.
This article is more than 4 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

It really is just about the happiest time of the university year. Summer graduation season is upon us again and up and down the country, graduands are dressing to impress and getting ready to cross the stage for their moment of glory.

Graduation remains one of the highlights in the university calendar and is one of the few genuinely pretty uniformly positive events we have in higher education. Although it now seems like a very long time ago I am still reminded of the national feeling we all experienced during the Olympics in London way back in 2012. Which is exactly the kind of upbeat feeling we need given the general sense of gloom about just about everything else at the moment.

Others get degrees too

Graduation also has some interesting traditions including the award of honorary degrees to worthy (and sometimes not so deserving) recipients like this set of acting stars or this group of musical giants. Let’s hope universities are being careful with their choices this year so we don’t get too many revocations in future.

That’s not my name

One of the most unpredictable aspects of graduation is the incredibly challenging issue of name reading especially if it goes horribly wrong (as it occasionally does). So do please spare a thought for the heads of school, deans, pro-vice-chancellors and other name readers, who have to work so hard to prepare for graduation (and to whom all of us involved in graduation ceremonies remain eternally grateful) and whose hardest time is about to come. There are though some exciting technical solutions which universities are already deploying which will put an end to this pronunciation misery.

But name errors are sometimes not the only distractions. There is also the paraphernalia, from maces (which we’ve covered here before) to mortar boards, where the US tradition of elaborate decoration has yet to make it to the UK. Probably for the best. Mortar boards are big issues in other respects too and every year there is at least one story that a university plans to ban its students from throwing mortar boards in the air on graduation day for health and safety reasons. This is a myth which, entertainingly, the HSE gets really quite cross about. Although the HSE website, sadly, no longer has their rebuttal on it, the previous press statement used to have this quote from a member of staff:

“You’d think universities would study history and do a bit of research before repeating tired health and safety myths like this one. The banning of mortar board tossing on supposed ‘health and safety’ grounds is one of our most popular myths and actually appears in our Top 10 all-time worst health and safety excuses.”

More graduation novelties

Every season brings new and unusual stories about weird graduation goings on. This piece about Staffordshire University students celebrating their graduation on a rollercoaster really caught the eye. They are graduates of the University’s Visitor Attraction and Resort Management degree and rode the Oblivion ride at Alton Towers in full academic dress. I don’t think the degrees were actually conferred during the free fall but it’s still a pretty novel element of ceremony.

Then there was this recent story about a Plymouth graduate who attached 23 empty crisp packets to her dress before graduation:

The 21-year-old wasn’t flaunting the plastic for fun though – nor did she care a single bit about getting any salty looks.
It was all to raise awareness to the masses and the powers that we all waste far too much plastic.
And it was a statement to savoury snack giant Walkers that the firm must do more to ensure billions more packets don’t end up blighting our countryside and coastline.

And, in exceptionally traditional vein, there was a major dressing down for some Oxford graduands who caused a ceremonial delay by not wearing the right apparel:

Oxford University proctors have reminded students of the dress code for their graduations, after women flouting a ‘sock and heels’ rule caused delays in this summer’s ceremonies.
In an message sent to students, officials warned that failure to wear the correct ‘sub fusc’ cap, gown and dark clothes could cause “serious inconvenience”.

So there you have it – wearing the wrong academic attire can cause serious inconvenience. Don’t do it kids.

Finally, in this traditional end to what has been a long and challenging academic year, let’s pay an enormous tribute to all of the staff, particularly those behind the scenes but also those on stage, who make it all happen. A really massive thank you to all of them.

Here comes the summer everyone.

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