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Saint Leo Blog

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7 Things Attendees Should Expect at a College Commencement Ceremony

Posted by Greg Lindberg on Apr 23, 2018 10:20:54 AM

A commencement ceremony at Saint Leo UniversityCue Pomp and Circumstance. Get out the caps and gowns. Bring the horns and cowbells.


Graduation is right around the corner for many seniors in college, along with those who are completing associate’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. This achievement is typically capped by a commencement ceremony in which students are recognized individually and diplomas are distributed in a formal setting.

If you’ve never attended a college commencement, here are 6 things to expect so that you’ll be prepared for this exciting event:

1. There will be a crowd.

Whether your son, cousin, or spouse is graduating from a major state university or a small college, there’s a high probability you will be dealing with an event attended by lots of people. Therefore, it’s best to arrive early, find parking close by, and grab your seat in the venue.

Many graduating students have multiple family members and friends attending. Plus, faculty members often attend these ceremonies, along with other school representatives from faculty and administration. This is why you have to plan ahead and expect a large crowd.

2. It’s typically a formal event.

It doesn’t matter if you’re attending the graduation ceremony of someone earning an Associate of Arts degree or DBA. In all cases, a graduating student has worked hard to earn his or her degree and has earned the right to be in the spotlight in a nice environment.

What this means is that you should dress to impress for this day. You should also act respectfully to all of the graduates and their support members in attendance. It may be best to put the smartphone away as well. This is a special time that deserves special attention.

3. You’ll hear a commencement speech – and plenty of other talking.

A longstanding tradition of commencement is to hear a speech from at least one graduating student. This speech may be 10-15 minutes, and there may be a few speeches in some cases. Plus, if you’re lucky enough, you might hear from a well-known alumnus or someone of notoriety who delivers a commencement address as an invited guest.

In addition to more formal speeches, schools often have a number of representatives speak, present awards, and offer up their congratulations to the graduating class on hand. As such, these ceremonies can linger on a bit with a constant stream of speakers and others going to the podium for various reasons.

4. Be ready to test your patience.

As implied earlier, some commencement ceremonies can be long-winded and take several hours before all graduates have walked across the stage. This ultimately depends on how large of a graduating class is present and how long the speakers take to deliver their messages. Of course, some colleges and universities hold graduation ceremonies for specific schools and majors, so one ceremony may only be for human services majors, while another could be for the entire university.

Keep in mind that many ceremonies recognize graduates alphabetically by their last name. So, this can be a bit of a guide on how much longer a ceremony will go based on where it is at a certain point in the alphabet.

5. There’s usually some emotion.

Bring the tissues because they might come in handy.

Commencement ceremonies can be emotional because of what this occasion represents. It certainly marks the end of a journey that has been several years in the making. But it also can signal the start of an optimistic future ahead that can include some uncertainty.

Just remember that this should be a happy and proud moment for all involved in the ceremony.

6. Reactions from family members and friends can be interesting.

With some emotion at play, the reactions to hearing the name of a graduate announced can be interesting – to say the least.

You might hear parents and siblings shout out the name of a soon-to-be-alumnus. You might hear some loud applause. You might even hear one of those little horns being sounded, some cowbells being rung, or other various congratulatory sounds.

Don’t be caught off-guard by these outbursts of joy.

7. Cameras are generally allowed in most cases.

Unlike certain events where ushers are on the lookout for attendees with still and video cameras, you’re generally permitted to bring in a camera to capture your graduate making that long-awaited trip across the stage. Of course, with smartphones these days, you might not need a separate device, but you should be able to bring it in and use it if you’d like.

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