I’m of an age that I have children, friends’ children, and nieces and nephews graduating from high school and college every year, and will have for some years to come. High school graduations are fun and wonderful and nearly magical to me. They are a transition (for most) from all the silliness and drama of high school to the serious business of diving into the deep end of the workforce or selecting a secondary education that will lead to a lifelong career. There is room for some laughter, some tears, and a lot of happiness. For many, this will be their last graduation ceremony. Ever. And they deserve their moment to shine as they walk across that stage and receive their diploma. Let me put this is the most simplistic words I can find.
If the person calling out the names of the graduates says, “We will call up one row at a time. Please hold your applause until the end of that row.” please do so. Do not be the asshat who yells out, “Woo Hoo! Go, Derrick!” so loudly that I cannot hear my own child’s name heard. Odds are by the time my youngest graduates I’ll be using a cane. I will note your place in the crowd and position myself so that I accidentally tear your ACL , break your baby-daddy’s arm, and nudge your mama down some steep concrete stairs. I’ve had enough of poor etiquette at graduations from middle school, high school, and college. Truly. Stick a fork in me. I. AM. DONE.
Let’s continue on the etiquette issue as we move along to college. If you have offspring graduating from college they are not kids anymore. They are adults with a college education, ready to take a place in the professional world. Even if it took seven years of your hard-earned money or a mountain of student loans to get them their Underwater Basket-weaving degree – especially then. I looked in the course catalogue every semester I was in college for a class in Underwater Basket-weaving, but never saw one to sign up for. I suppose it’s an urban myth. I was always hopeful, though! When I was carrying twenty-one credit hours a semester, working part-time, and living on Ramen that course would have been the high point of my week.
Anyway, when I graduated from high school (dinosaurs led the procession) some girls wore their mortar boards wrong so as to protect their “mall bangs” (it was 1984!), but other than that we were dressed appropriately. No writing on mortar boards, no inappropriate clothing showing beneath our gowns, and no other additions to our academic attire other than those recognizing academic achievement. I wore a National Honor Society stole and a Beta Club braid. Mu Alpha Theta (the National Math Honorary) didn’t have baubles. Our Valedictorian and Salutatorian were recognized, as were our class officers. I’m probably best remembered not as the Senior Class Vice-President, but as the person who handed out 600 pennies and demonstrated how to tilt the principle’s hand during the handshake so he had to take them. He had six dollars in pennies on him when graduation was done, and I was vindicated for the “We can make this year very difficult for you” speech I got in his office after my senior portrait showed up in the yearbook with me in a pink feather wig.
But I digress. When my eldest son graduated from high school I was appalled at the poor etiquette amongst both graduates and attendees. When the Valedictorians for my eldest son’s high school graduating class were announced at least a dozen kids stood. No names were called. I was angry. Not for my son, but for the one of those kids who had worked their butt off and wasn’t getting the recognition he or she deserved. Let’s call that person Nathan.
His friends and family are thrilled and excited by what he’s achieved. Would he have worked as hard if he’d only been recognized by standing up with eleven other runners-up? No. Would the other eleven people have been depressed that they weren’t recognized as much as Nathan? No. As someone who graduated sixth in her class I can honestly say I was very proud of our Valedictorian and Salutatorian.They were both home studying while I was out having fun, and they deserved the recognition they got.
When my eldest graduated from college I expected a solemn academic event. Just in case you’re unsure what a graduate should wear when their baccalaureate, masters, or doctoral degree is conferred, here’s a nice site to check: Academic Regalia in the Unites States. Let me share a small tidbit:
A number of other items such as cords, stoles, aiguillettes, representing various academic achievements or other honors are also worn at the discretion of some degree-granting institutions. The Code disapproves of their use on or over academic regalia, saying that “shoes and other articles of visible apparel worn by graduates should be of dark colors that harmonize with the academic costume. Nothing else should be worn on the academic gown.”
This is from a change in 1987, folks, not a century ago. In other words, your school may approve you wearing your Phi Beta Kappa pin (honor society for liberal arts), or your thin gold Sigma Theta Tau cord (honor society for academic excellence in nursing), or the academic honor society for whatever your area of study has been. Odds are, your cap and gown are not traditional black, but your school’s colors. Thank God I didn’t go to school in Tennessee or Texas – orange does not suit my coloring. Of course if anyone would like to present me with an honorary doctorate I’d prefer the University of Washington, where I’d wear a purple gown and hood with purple velvet inserts and gold trim and a purple hexagonal tam. I could ROCK that! I’d personalize it with a bit of gold fabric paint in the Prince symbol over my heart, but on the inside, of course. I would know it was there, but it wouldn’t be visible.
As I walked along the corridors of the small college from which my son and daughter-in-law would be graduating I was surprised to see a rainbow of colored sashes. And messages on mortar boards as if they were benches downtown “THIS SPACE FOR RENT!” No, I really didn’t see that one, but it wouldn’t have surprised me. For some reason, mortar boards are evidently meant to be used as “thank-you”s to those who paid your tuition (I’d have needed a larger mortar board) or announcement of what the graduate will be doing next, or just use of extra craft supplies. I wrote notes and attended meetings to thank the people who’d helped fund my education, and told them in person what job I’d accepted in what area of nursing. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the sashes represented fraternities and sororities. I started lagging behind, reading everyone’s sashes. Sadly, my ever-vigilant husband pulled me away to the section behind the choir, where we wanted to sit, before I could ask my questions.
Perhaps recent graduates can answer these questions:
1) Does the college or university you attend have any control over what you wear at graduation, or do they just assume you’ll make good choices, that you’ll dress according to the ARUS Code?
2) If social groups such as fraternities and sororities wear sashes, do close-knit groups like the football team, basketball team, volleyball team, and cheerleading squad have sashes as well?
3) If you are a Kappa Kappa Gamma who’s on the dance team and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa with a 3.5 GPA which also makes you a member of Sigma Theta Tau. . . in what order do you wear everything? Alphabetically? Chronologically? By order of importance? (That could make for a ghastly faux pax no matter what you do!)
Lastly, and most importantly, there is only one valedictorian in your high school graduating class. In case anyone has forgotten, the student in the graduating class with the highest GPA is the Valedictorian. Just that person. No one else. My grandfather was the valedictorian of his high school graduating class because he was the only person who graduated from the little country school that year! Here’s what being a Valedictorian this year looks like:
So this post is dedicated to Nathan. Throughout high school he participated in a competitive marching band (Pit section leader!), was very active in German Club and on the Yearbook staff, played baseball, and competed in academic contests on a National level. Any college would be proud to have him, but the University of Georgia in Athens nabbed him with its excellent Landscape Architecture program. You earned all the applause, Nathan, and I wish I could have been there for you!!
Voice your opinions: what should graduates wear? How should their guests behave? If you think sneaking booze into a noon-ish graduation and being naked under your graduation gown and wearing a badge for every sorority girl / fraternity guy you can remember having sex with is the way to go, please let me know so I don’t accidentally attend your graduation ceremony!