The Ceremony

Dress the part for a once-in-a-lifetime event that's rich in style and traditions.

Ceremony Basics

There's no greater recognition of a graduate's achievements than a high school graduation ceremony, or commencement. Diplomas are "conferred" or handed out to graduating seniors and the speakers selected for this event often include community dignitaries, alumni and students. The valedictorian, the highest-ranking academic student in the graduation class, usually speaks.

Many schools have to restrict attendance for space reasons. Make sure to check with your school to see if there will be limitations on the number of people you can invite to the ceremony. If your school has space restrictions and you're facing a dilemma about who to include, try these tips:

  • Talk to your friends and family members and explain that while you want them at graduation, each graduate is allowed only a limited number of guests. Most people will understand and even possibly volunteer to give up their ticket so that someone else may attend.
  • Consider inviting only one grandparent or aunt or uncle from each wing of your family.
  • Come up with a creative solution that will feel fair to everyone, such as drawing names.
  • Let everyone who is not able to attend know they will be invited to the graduation party. Make sure to share your photos and videos to make them feel included.

Ceremony Etiquette

Some schools embrace lively and free-spirited graduation ceremonies. But before you break out the beach balls and noisemakers, consider these factors:

  • What are the traditions of your particular school? If graduation is a more formal and somber right of passage, it's probably better to replace whooping and hollering with applause.
  • In most schools, the handing out of diplomas is a quick and orderly process. Make sure that when you show pride in your graduate, you aren't drowning out the recognition of another.
  • Life's milestones deserve everyone's full attention. Turn off your cell phones and resist the urge to text until the entire ceremony is over. Remain in your seat until the last students receive their diplomas so that they feel properly acknowledged.

The Cap and Gown

Preparing to march to "Pomp and Circumstance" requires wearing the traditional graduation cap and gown, a tradition that dates back centuries to the early universities in Europe.

Here's how to wear your cap and gown:

  • The graduation cap is worn flat on the head, parallel to the floor. The front point of the cap should be centered on the forehead.
  • The graduation gown should fall midway between the knee and ankle.
  • Men should remove their graduation 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 wear dark trousers and dress shirts and ties under their graduation gowns.
  • Women generally wear lightweight dresses or blouses and skirts that do not hang below their graduation gowns. They can also wear a detachable white collar that adds a more finished, decorative touch.
  • Flowers and jewelry should not be worn on the academic gown.
  • Caps and gowns can be accessorized with specific regalia like stoles and honor cords in keeping with the traditions of the school.