Despite the homogenous uniformity that often characterizes graduation ceremonies, be it in attire, tradition, organization or process, these ceremonies have, without being too obvious, kept up with the times. This, all in all, is entirely thanks to the forward-thinking graduates that the ceremony is celebrating. As modern times have ran on, the stage of the graduation ceremony has become a ground for multiple things; daring feats of self-gratification, subversion, sabotage, subterfuge, and also an opportunity to pronounce not only one’s academic achievements, but also the holistic means one has taken to finally earn them. This is evident as plenty of graduates take to the stage with more than just shaking the chancellor’s hand in mind.
This seemed to start initially with a simple dare: to take a selfie during the ceremony. If you were to search ‘graduation ceremony selfie’ on Google, you would see the University of Leicester Press Office article on the “First Ever Graduation Ceremony Selfie”. Notice here that the article does not regard this incident as an anomaly, but instead as the first of a series of similar acts performed on the graduation stage. Naturally, after the first graduation selfie appeared, an epidemic quickly swept graduation ceremonies all over the West, and this may have played a fundamental role in further daring acts upon the stage. I myself, who graduated in 2016, was told explicitly before the ceremony began “NO SELFIES”. So the idea must have taken off.
In terms of subterfuge, one student, the valedictorian of Wyoming Area School District’s Class of 2017, Peter Butera, chose to use the stage as a critical space, one of revolution, in which the student can address and criticize the University administration itself. Describing his particular university’s administration as ‘authoritarian’ was enough for them to turn off his microphone mid-speech. Afterwards, the superintendent, Janet Serino, met up with Butera in order to discuss how the administration could be improved. Whether or not this made a difference, the act itself shows the graduation stage as more than simply its intended purpose, it is clearly heterogeneous, and can be used to exact change within the very institution that arranged it.
In other circumstances, the ceremony has been used to celebrate more than just academic achievements. Recently, at Queen’s University in Belfast, Ciara Cinnamond, a Politics, Philosophy and Economics graduate, unravelled a Pride flag during her graduation ceremony. This was followed by plaudits and cheer from the audience, as it was celebrating not just her academic prowess, but the solidarity of multiple demographics and the plight for equality. The love, happiness, and support provided by the Pride community, and the oppression that many minorities face, being incredibly apt subjects to bring up, especially when graduating with a degree in politics and philosophy; a much more holistic approach to a day of celebration, and one that should resonate with people across the globe.
In a similar statement, Tim Clifton-Wright brought flair and grace to his graduation ceremony by wearing a pair of quite frankly divine six-inch red heels. He commented he was convinced to do it by “a combination of being comfortable in who I am and a need for increased LGBT visibility in a complacent society”. Again, why only celebrate one thing on such a day, when there is simply so many different things to celebrate. Fabulous shoes being one of them.
Regarding a rather different kind of transcendence, one that similarly harkens back to issues of the human heart and expands the graduation ceremony beyond the confines of the venue, comes the idea that these ceremonies are perfect opportunities for marriage proposals. On average, there seems to be at least one marriage proposal at a graduation ceremony each year.
This year happened to be at the University of Aberdeen. A young man, Ibragim Tashim, decided to subjugate the difficult traversal of academia by his girlfriend, Assel Nurmukhambetova, with a difficult traversal of poetic recital and awkward side-glances. Though the bride-to-be seemed overwhelmed with a mixture of sheer bafflement and shock, both the crowd and the governing body seemed positive about the whole affair, applauding the young couple before continuing the ceremony. Though the reception of the proposal seemed ambiguous at best on behalf of Assel, apparently they do intend to get married. All’s well that ends well, and it seems that all is fair in love and war (and graduation ceremonies). This isn’t only the case with students, either. Just ask Grayson Perry.
Grayson Perry, the Chancellor of UAL (University of the Arts London), has broken tradition entirely, transcending a staple of the graduation ceremony, one not transcended quite so powerfully before: the academic dress itself. Utilising the artistic talent of the University, he orchestrated a competition in which the students could put forward a design for a bespoke gown, and the winner would have the gown realised in addition to Grayson wearing the gown itself to his students’ ceremonies. The difference between the traditional academic gown and the winner, Keith Tovey’s gown is drastic, to say the least. The gown is lined with silk stretch satin, overlaid with ten coloured French silk organza layers. It is incredibly bright and incredibly colourful, and why not! The graduation ceremony is no place for mourning.
As the graduation ceremony expands in its skin, the stage is becoming a space for more and more heterogeneous acts of different intent. It is, like the ceremony itself, evolving, even despite its rigorously traditional routes. Who knows what the coming years shall bring, and if any brave graduate will utilise the stage this year in a way previously unseen. Fact is stranger than fiction, and in whatever case, students will perpetually search for a means to make their special day even more memorable. So watch this space.
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Article was written by Liam Atterbury