The Ceremony: Rich in Style and Tradition

Diplomas are "conferred" or handed out to graduates at an official ceremony called commencement, convocation or invocation. This is a cultural tradition termed as a rite of passage, marking one stage of a person's life to another. Many colleges have different traditions associated with the graduation ceremony, including the tossing of the graduation hat (mortarboards) into the air and flipping the tassel from the right to the left upon receiving the diploma.

When do you flip the tassel? Normally there's someone there to signal you. Some schools prefer to have the student flip right after the handshake upon the receipt of the diploma. Others want them to flip their tassels just before walking off the stage. It all depends on your school's tradition or rules.

All students who participate in the graduation ceremony are required to wear the appropriate commencement attire. Preparing to march with "Pomp and Circumstance" requires the traditional cap and gown. Here are some guidelines for the graduate on how to wear your cap and gown:

  • The cap is worn flat on the head.
  • The gown should fall midway between the knee and ankle.
  • Men should remove their caps during the school song and the National Anthem.
  • Tassels are usually worn on the right side and shifted to the left when graduates receive their diplomas.
  • Men generally choose to wear dark dress pants, a dress shirt and tie under their gowns.
  • Women generally wear a lightweight dress or a blouse and a skirt that is shorter than the gown so it does not hang below the gown.

At many large U. S. institutions, where many hundreds of degrees are being granted at once, the main ceremony is followed by smaller ceremonies at sites around campus where faculty of each department distribute diplomas to their graduates. Another means of handling very large numbers of graduates is to have several ceremonies, divided by field of study, at a central site over the course of a weekend instead of one single ceremony.

In any case, typically each candidate is given a diploma by an academic administrator or official such as the dean or department head. It is also common for graduates not to receive their actual diploma at the ceremony but instead a certificate indicating that they participated in the ceremony or a cover to hold the diploma in. This allows students who need an extra quarter or semester to participate in the official ceremony with their classmates.

At most colleges and universities in the U.S., the faculty technically will recommend that each candidate be given a degree, which is then formally conferred by the president or other institutional official.

Being a day of pride and prestige, make sure those closest to you get to share it with you. By sending college commencement invitations, you are recognizing their importance in your life and asking them to join you in this special day you have worked hard to earn.