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Graduation Etiquette: Preparing for the Perfect Day

by Dominic Chandler
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Graduation is the most important event in your life as a student, closing one chapter and beginning the next. It is important then, that the ceremony goes off without a hitch so that you can enjoy yourself and make the most out of this momentous occasion. That is why we have created this guide on Graduation etiquette.

Read on to learn about the most important parts of graduation etiquette that you and your guests can carry out to help make your graduation dream a reality.

Inviting Family and Friends to Your Graduation

Guests clinking glasses while drinking champagne in the background

After receiving your own graduation announcement, you, as the graduate, will be allocated a set number of seats with which you can invite select family members or friends.

This is tricky water tread as obviously, not everyone will be able to come and see your ceremony. It’s important to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings so make sure you engage in open communication with your closest family and friends. Some may not be able to come to the ceremony proper but they will be able to come to any celebrations before and after the event.

Make sure to select your guests wisely. Giving your parents seats at the ceremony is often the way to go and depending on the size of your family, a sibling or a grandparent can also be invited. Any seat leftover can go to a close friend or a date. It is important to consider both who you want to be there and who wants to see your ceremony the most.

The Art of Gift-Giving at Graduation

When learning a loved one is going to be graduating from their university, it is appropriate etiquette to get them some kind of gift to commemorate the occasion.

How the gift selecting and giving is handled is entirely up to you. Some parents when their children graduate go big. A new laptop is always a good bet because chances are a graduate wore out their last one on years of assignments and research!

A lot of graduation gifts are small little keepsakes and mementoes though. Jewellery, books, even a cuddly toy – they can all provide something to remember the day by. Just ensure it’s the right gift for the graduate to make their day that much more special.

Gifts can be given before or after the ceremony, whichever is more appropriate for the graduate and the ceremony itself. If it is a piece of jewellery, the graduate will be able to wear it to the event and make it that much more special. Other gifts may be best given after the ceremony at the celebration with the rest of your family and friends.

Properly Wearing Your Graduation Attire

university graduation

One of the most important things to consider in graduation etiquette is your appearance. We don’t mean this in any vain or superficial way but looking smart and professional at your graduation shows a certain degree of respect for the proceedings.

You will also want to feel sharp and formal so that when you look back on these memories it is with pride.

It comes highly recommended to wear a shirt with buttons so you have something to hook your graduation gown on. Heavy material will help stop the gown from riding back so you don’t have to adjust it as much throughout the day. If you have a tie, make sure that goes over the front of the graduation hood which is always put on after the rest of the gown.

Make sure the hood sits evenly on your shoulders and is turned out properly to display the colour.

There’s a little more etiquette involved with the mortarboard. Some universities and colleges do it differently but often, the tassel plays a key part in signifying the transition of events throughout the day. In some universities, the tassel starts on the right-hand side of the graduation cap before being flipped to the left side to signify becoming a graduate.

The movement of tassel also signifies the degree of education you are graduating for. Undergraduate students will have their tassel on the right before moving it to their left and higher education such as Masters’ and doctorate degrees will have the tassel starting on the left-hand side.

Always make sure the mortarboard is sitting evenly on your head as well, with the longer part at the back. Use pins and grips to keep it in place if you need to.

Graduation Etiquette When Having Your Photo Taken

5 things to remember when purchasing your Graduation Photo Frames

Photographs are a vital part of any graduation ceremony as they immortalise the day, giving you and your loved ones something to look back on in the future.

Using proper etiquette for your official photograph will help you to look as smart and sharp as possible. Consider every aspect of your appearance while posing for your perfect photograph. Make sure your hair frames your face in just the right way to complement your appearance.

Make sure you pay attention to your posture as well. Keep your back straight and your body at an angle so you aren’t directly facing the camera. This isn’t a passport photo, so you have more freedom to make your photograph as appealing as possible!

Pull your chin down a little and bring your ears forward for a look that positions your nostrils downwards. It can look a little awkward and unnatural on a profile view but for a forward-facing photograph, this yields the best and most attractive results for your professional photograph.

Positioning is everything in a professional photograph, from angling your face so that the nose doesn’t divide your features to turning your shoulders. Great posture will lead to a great looking photograph that you will always be proud to look back on.

Graduation Etiquette for Accepting Your Certificate

Perhaps the most crucial part of the ceremony is the ceremony itself. No one wants to trip as they walk across the stage. No one wants to walk too fast and look like they’re rushing or walk too slow and look unnatural.

Remain calm and poised and cross the stage as naturally as possible. When you reach the presenter, make sure you have a welcoming and polite smile on your face. Maintain eye contact with the presenter as well and be sure to exude confidence and pride at being at the event.

Take the certificate with your left hand and shake the presenter’s hand with your right. Be firm in the shake and don’t hold your certificate loosely at your side. It is likely photographs are being taken so maintaining that confident body language is vital.

Don’t lose it as you walk off the other side of the stage and be sure to look out at the audience with a smile even if you don’t make eye contact with anyone. It will help to make you feel less awkward and enable you to feel less invisible as you exit the stage.

Feel free to drop the confident gait once you’ve left the stage though. Attention will be on the next graduate so speed walk around the room and back to your seat with all the haste you want!

Extra Graduation Etiquette for That Final Flourish

So you’ve made it through your entire ceremony, hopefully without a hitch but there are a couple of final flourishes you can add to make the day that much more special.

These are just the nitpick details that can add a little something extra to your graduation. Etiquette states that muted colours and professional clothes under your robes are best. Jeans and garish colours can draw the eye in an unfavourable way so be sure to stick to whites, greys and lighter shades like pale blue and pink. This is a great way to complement your gown and keep you looking professional.

Flowers are another part of graduation etiquette that can add a level of grace and elegance to the proceedings. Flowers hold a lot of symbolism that can help to add a special and personal meaning to your ceremony:

  • Amaryllis – Often seen as a symbol of pride, this is the perfect flower for a loved one to give as a gift to express the value of your graduation. Conversely, gift it to yourself to give you that extra boost of confidence in your achievements.

  • Clematis – Said to symbolise mental beauty. This is a great flower for someone to use to express how smart they think you are and how impressed they are with your achievements.

  • Gladiolus – So named for the gladius, the swords gladiators fought with, this flower symbolises greatness and victory, a powerful flower to bring to the ceremony.

  • Goldenrod – A pretty little flower that symbolises encouragement and good fortune. Include this flower in a bouquet to send yourself wishes for a good future in your career after graduation.

  • Valerian – a delicate flower that symbolises readiness. Get yourself ready and raring to go after a graduation ceremony as you prepare for life after education.

  • White Rose – Among other things, a white rose means a new beginning or a fresh start. Pair this flower with valerian and goldenrods to symbolise you leaving education behind for a new adventure.

Graduation is one of the most important days in a student’s life, celebrating their academic achievements and symbolising their transition into a new stage of life. Graduation etiquette helps to prepare you for this pivotal event and ensure you get the most out of the experience and start your new life off with a bang.


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