How Long Is a Graduation Ceremony?

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The journey to commencement weekend is such an uphill battle. Between muddy exam waters, final project completions, balancing school life and your sanity, I know what it’s like to be this close to giving up but keeping your focus on the end goal is key. But once you’ve made it all the way to graduation, give yourself a round of applause; you did it! Reaching your graduation date is one of the most exhilarating feelings in the world and it’s finally happening for you.

Today’s article is dedicated to upcoming graduating students everywhere—whether you’re undergraduate students, master’s students, doctoral candidates, or even high school students, you’ve made it to the finish line, and now it’s time to celebrate!

I’ll be going over what a graduation ceremony is, how long they are, how to prepare for graduation, and more. I will also be going over when to expect your upcoming graduation ceremony. So, if you’re a graduating student, now is not the time to stress. Follow me, and let me guide you through a successful and memorable graduation ceremony!

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what is a graduation ceremony

What Is a Graduation Ceremony?

After years of schooling, the day will finally arrive when all your hard work and dedication pays off: graduation day! From the second you wake up to the minute you take off your cap and gown, the day feels like a fever dream. You never realize how quickly it goes by, but it does. Students are scrambling, parents are coordinating, and everyone seems to be preparing for the big day, which also includes the ceremony.

The graduation ceremony is the traditional awarding of a degree by an educational institution. The ceremony is also known as a commencement, congregation, convocation, or invocation.

Today’s college ceremonies are often held in stadiums and other larger venues, whereas they used to be held in gymnasiums and smaller spaces. Students also dress in cap-and-gowns as part of the traditional ceremony to commemorate their achievements. Though some aspects of the ceremonies have changed, what hasn’t changed is the importance and significance of the event. The university commencement ceremony is a landmark moment in every young adult’s academic life.

Purpose of a Graduation Ceremony

Graduation ceremonies aren’t just about holding an event to mark the end of an academic journey. It is a day dedicated to celebrating and recognizing the achievements of students who have successfully completed their educational studies. Graduation ceremonies serve as a formal and symbolic rite of passage, marking the transition from one stage of education to the next, that is student life to the professional world.

These ceremonies provide an opportunity for students, families, faculty, and staff to come together and commemorate the hard work, dedication, and accomplishments of the graduates. Graduation ceremonies also serve as a time to reflect on the educational journey, honor academic excellence, and inspire graduates to pursue their future goals and aspirations.

But most importantly, these ceremonies help instill a sense of pride and self-accomplishment among graduates. This is the day to feel proud of all the sacrifices and late-night cramming sessions you’ve made that helped push you through the end. It seals the deal to lasting memories and connections that will be cherished for years to come.

Graduation vs Commencement

When we're talking about education, "graduation" and "commencement" are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to different aspects of the academic journey. Let's talk about it.

Graduation typically refers to the degree completion of an academic program. That is, it is the official conferral of a diploma or degree for a student who has successfully met all the degree requirements for graduation, such as completing coursework, passing exams, and fulfilling any other academic obligations.

However, when we're talking about a commencement, it typically refers to the ceremony or event that celebrates the achievements of the graduating students. In simple terms, it is a formal ceremony where graduates, faculty, staff, families, and friends come together to recognize and honor the accomplishments of the graduating class. Commencement ceremonies often include speeches, award presentations, and the distribution of degrees.

celebrating graduation

Graduation Ceremonies: How Long?

As you know, a graduation ceremony is an event moment meant to celebrate and commemorate students who have completed their studies and are beginning a new chapter as adults. But between graduation and making sure you’re prepared to walk across the stage, no one stops to wonder how long the ceremony actually is.

However, a typical graduation ceremony lasts anywhere between 90 minutes to two hours. Now, these are time approximations; each school may have their own set time length for the ceremony, but it gives you an idea of what to expect. Throughout this timeframe, students, faculty, and staff have time to give speeches, prepare readings, say prayers, and even add entertainment through songs and other forms of musical support.

You do want to make sure you do your due diligence and find out how long the ceremony will be according to your school’s schedule. Better to be over-prepared than under, especially on a special day like your graduation.

How to Prepare for Graduation

For some students, the countdown to graduation begins on the very first day of freshman year. And before we know it, it’s arrived, and you suddenly don’t know what to do. Years of waiting for this day don’t actually prepare you for it, so I’ve come up with some ways to help get you ready for your graduation:

  1. Confirm Graduation Requirements: Once you have your official graduation date, make sure you have completed all necessary coursework and requirements to graduate.
  2. Order Graduation Attire: Purchase or make arrangements to rent your graduation gown, cap, tassel, and any other required attire in advance.
  3. RSVP for the Ceremony: Confirm your attendance and those who need guest tickets for the graduation ceremony. This is also a good time to see if the graduation will be live-streamed for any guests of yours who may not be able to physically attend the ceremony, as well as inquire about accessible seating.
  4. Plan Your Schedule: Coordinate with family and friends and plan your schedule for the day. Get a head count of how many guests will be attending the celebration, including arrival time and any other post-graduation celebrations.
  5. Prepare Your Speech (if necessary): If you are giving a speech or presentation during the ceremony, practice and prepare in advance. You want to make sure you are present and can participate properly from beginning to end.
  6. Gather Necessary Documents: Know your ceremony details through and through. And if necessary, bring any required documents, such as identification or graduation paperwork, to the ceremony.
  7. Arrive Early: Getting to the venue early will not only ensure seats for your party but also reduce the stress of rushing, figuring out parking, and any last-minute things that could possibly make you late. Plus, you also get the chance of nabbing floor-level seats!
  8. Celebrate Your Achievements: Take time to reflect on your accomplishments and soak it all in. You did it; you’ve finally made it, and you deserve to celebrate with loved ones all day long!

Though you don’t have to follow these steps in this order, they all help ensure a successful and memorable graduation experience. However, be sure to keep the little things in mind, as well, like prohibited items, the use of mobile devices during the ceremony, if the school has a clear bag policy, accessibility resources, and all other important details that can disrupt the day!

P.S. depending on the school, the number of guest tickets or invitations to students' families can be limited. Some institutions may offer no more than two per student, others five, and others more. It’s important to know this information ahead of time so everyone wanting to attend your event can be aware, as well. However, since COVID-19, live-streamed ceremonies have become a popular way for those who can’t attend to still watch you walk across the stage.

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Cap and Gown

When it comes to the cap and gown, there are a few misconceptions we’ve been led to believe. First, there is no proper way to wear your cap. While most students don’t realize the tassel has its own place and way of lying, it absolutely does! Though the tassel on top of your cap swings freely above the cap, it should be formally laid on the right side of the cap. Students should only move the tassel to the left side of the cap once they’ve walked the stage and are officially considered graduated.

Regarding the gown, I want to emphasize the importance of wearing something underneath it. Yes, you are supposed to wear something underneath it—I know, it’s silly to even say, but there have been some instances throughout the years where students have been known to be bare underneath their gowns, and it is very frowned upon. So, please make sure you are properly dressed underneath the gown. I suggest pants, skirts, and whatever else you are comfortable with.

Keep in mind that some schools allow graduates to personalize their caps, but not the gowns’ while other schools do not. Please make sure to double-check with the school’s graduation guidelines before giving your cap and/or gown a makeover. If you don’t follow their rules, you can suffer some harsh consequences, like not being able to attend graduation.

Speech and Commemorations

Speeches have always been a memorable part of a graduation ceremony. The principal and various school officials will say a few words, as will the class president and other student speakers. As the academic journey ends, the future begins, so it's only right that faculty and students alike send the graduating class off with encouraging words of wisdom and support.

So, if you're up to speak on graduation day, keep in mind:

  • Every speech should be no more than a few minutes.
  • The tone of the speech should inspire and motivate.
  • Adding a touch of humor to the speech is always a good idea.
  • Lastly, get up there and leave your peers with something to remember

Graduation Ceremony: Order of Events

Every graduation's order of events will differ slightly, but for the most part, they all consist of the same key components. Let’s go through the typical order of events for a graduation ceremony so you know what to expect on the big day:

  • Procession – The processional part of the order of events involves music, the entrance of the graduating class, or the singing of the national anthem.
  • Greetings – Introductions from the principal, the board, and a class representative will kick off the ceremony.
  • Speakers – Inspirational speeches from student speakers (like the class president), guest speaker(s), and even a former student will lead the crowd through the ceremony.
  • Presentation – Each student will walk to the podium to receive their diplomas.
  • Finalities – Faculty members will wrap up the event by saying their last words of encouragement to students.

While this is just an outline of the day's order of events, this is what is to be expected on the day of the ceremony. There's a chance that each school may have its own traditions, so you’ll receive a formal graduation program that will help you follow along.

graduating

When to Expect Graduation Ceremonies

There are three main seasons for graduation: spring, summer, and fall. Spring is the most popular graduation season, so for those in their final spring term, yours is right around the corner for eligible graduates, which means it's go time. But don't panic. There's still a little time to get your ducks in order.

Now, while every university commencement ceremony date will be different, spring graduates are to expect their school's convocation ceremonies to be some time in May. In all actuality, the entire month of May is dedicated to graduations all over the United States. Some ceremonies will be held the first two weeks in May, while others the last two weeks in May. Make sure you visit campus resources like the registrar's office or academic counselors for the exact date.

Summer Ceremonies

Summer graduates, you're up next! Not everyone finishes their academic journey in the spring, and that's totally okay! A summer commencement ceremony is just as incredible and special for graduating classes everywhere. Summer students can expect their ceremonies to be held in July, which is right in the middle of summer. And since spring term students have left campus, summer graduates can also expect smaller crowds, but don't let that discourage you. That just makes your graduation that much more intimate.

Fall Ceremonies

Last but certainly not least, those graduating in the fall should expect their fall commencement ceremony to be held in December. I know it's a little too early in the year to think that far ahead, but December is one of the busiest times of the year, so it's important to advise your family and friends of your official graduation date as soon as you can. That is, once you know the date, tell your people to save it in their calendars!

Tips for Planning a Graduation Ceremony

When planning a graduation ceremony, taking everything into consideration is key: location, invitees, ceremony details, etc., and because we can't do everything at once, it's easy to lose track of what truly needs to be done when planning a graduation ceremony.

Here are some tips that might help you plan a successful night full of friends, family, and freedom:

  • Budget: Start by setting a budget and timeline for the event to ensure everything stays on track.
  • Venue: Choose a venue that can accommodate the number of guests and has the necessary facilities for the ceremony.
  • Guest list: Create a guest list and send out invitations well in advance to ensure attendance.
  • Schedule: Develop a schedule outlining the order of events for the night, including speeches, award presentations, and any special performances.
  • Equipment: Arrange for necessary equipment like sound systems, microphones, seating arrangements, etc.
  • Coordination: Communicate and coordinate early with vendors for catering, decorations, and any other services needed for the event.
  • Communication: Communicate with graduates and their families to provide important information about the ceremony.
  • Plan B: Have a backup plan in case of unexpected changes or emergencies during the ceremony.

Please note: some schools have to restrict attendance for space reasons, so be 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 constraints and you’re questioning who to include, try talking to your friends and family members and explain that each graduate is allowed only a limited number of guests. Most people will understand and possibly volunteer their tickets so that someone else may attend.

Being transparent about the ceremony details is the key to having a successful, stress-free night. While it's important to have support and loved ones there to celebrate you, it's more important to be honest with your family and friends about the ceremony details. That way, everyone knows what to expect, and no one is left out.

graduation memories

Making Graduation Memorable

Graduation season is an unforgettable time of year, but sadly, it goes by quickly. That's why it's important to go hard or go home and celebrate big! I've listed some factors to consider when planning a graduation celebration:

  1. Personalize the experience: Incorporate personal touches into the night, like customized decorations, a book for personalized messages, and even special acknowledgments throughout the night to make graduates feel valued and celebrated.
  2. Create a memorable celebration: Create an engaging program that includes inspiring speeches, entertaining performances, and interactive elements to keep guests entertained and emotionally engaged.
  3. Capture the moment: Make sure to take pictures, videos, and all other forms of media to capture the night. I suggest looking into hiring a professional photographer or videographer to document the ceremony and create lasting memories that graduates and their families can relive in the future.
  4. Honor achievements: Make sure to honor both big and little achievements, academic excellence, and any other special accomplishments.
  5. Have fun!: After years of homework and hard work, you can finally sit back, relax, and enjoy the night. Connect with your peers, share memories, and celebrate your accomplishments together.

Use these tips when commencement weekend rolls around and watch how easy it'll be to create a memorable and meaningful experience that will be cherished by graduates and guests for years to come.

Browse these graduation gift ideas to find inspiration for a gift for your friend or loved one who is graduating!

Graduation Etiquette

Graduation season is thrilling and new-wrecking all at the same time, especially if your senior class has some tricks up their sleeves. While some schools do encourage lively and free-spirited graduation ceremonies, others may not, so before you break out the confetti and noisemakers, consider these factors:

  • Traditions: If graduation is a more formal and somber rite of passage at your school, it’s probably better to replace whooping and hollering with applause.
  • Diploma: 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.
  • Respect the Graduates: Celebrating someone's life milestones deserves your full, undivided attention. So, turn your cell phones off and resist the urge to text or check your socials until the entire ceremony is over. Also, remain in your seat until the final students receive their diplomas so that they feel properly acknowledged and celebrated.

Now you're officially ready for your or your loved one's special day. So, whether you're attending a university commencement ceremony, summer commencement ceremony, or fall commencement ceremony, knowing what to expect and having the proper etiquette will ensure a great night of celebrations.

Wondering what to write on a graduation card? Check out our graduation card guide to help you generate ideas!

graduation ceremonies

Frequently Asked Questions About Graduation Ceremonies

How long is the graduation ceremony expected to last?

A typical ceremony can last anywhere between 90 minutes to 2 hours. Throughout this time, faculty, staff, and students will be able to express their gratitude through speeches, readings, and sometimes musical entertainment. Graduate students, families, and their invited guests should block out this time for celebrations.

Can graduates personalize their graduation caps or gowns?

Some schools allow eligible graduates to personalize their caps but not their gowns. However, other schools do not. Please make sure that you check your school’s graduation and safety guidelines before giving your cap and/or gown any décor. Failure to adhere to their rules can lead to harsh consequences, and they may need to leave campus.

How many guests can each graduate bring to the ceremony?

Depending on the school, the number of guest tickets or “invitations” to students' families can be limited. Some institutions offer as few as two per student, others five, and others more. It’s important to know this information ahead of time so everyone wanting to attend your event can be aware, as well. Since Covid, live-streamed ceremonies have become popular. That way, those who could not attend can still watch you get your degree.

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