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Graduation ceremonies: the postgraduate experience

Most of you will be familiar with the salient details of the graduation ceremony, having sat through it at the end of your undergrad degree. This solemn and unique occasion celebrates the rite of passage signalling the end of your university education (or a particular phase of it if you soldier on in pursuit of the dizzier heights of academic achievement), where boys become men and girls become ladies. Or, the only time in your student career when you will actually live up to the “Harry Potter-esque” comparisons often flung at British universities before being pushed out of a plane to join the real world, degree certificate in hand. Parachute not guaranteed! 

For postgraduate students who’ve jumped back into the plane for another go, graduation take two is an even prouder occasion than at undergraduate level, as it can mark the glorious apotheosis of years of toil and allows you to commemorate the fact that you’ve really DONE IT! For shorter courses as well there is still an enhanced sense of achievement, with the acquiring of further expertise in a particular field. 

The ceremony itself is not compulsory, so students unable to be there for whatever reason won’t be short changed out of their degree!  However it is a lovely occasion for your nearest and dearest to celebrate you, as well as for you and your friends to toast your university career.

The form and organisation of ceremonies depend on your university. Many are “trad” with capital T-R-A and D, remaining impervious to the passage of time and stubbornly sticking to the 15th century confines in which they were conceived. With billowing gowns, mortar boards, speeches in Latin – the works. The last of these is rarer but the academic dress is fairly universal, as is the programme of the ceremony. 

You will invariably be presented to a senior university figure, normally the Chancellor/Vice-Chancellor, who will present you with your certificate or sometimes a coloured hood symbolising your degree status.
Degree ceremonies are organised well in advance, and have to be signed up for months before you’ve even finished your course. Your university website will have all the details on how/when to book a spot. It seems topsy-turvy to be thinking about graduating before you’ve really got into your course, but you’d be surprised at how quickly ceremonies fill up. Some institutions have one big graduation ceremony, whereas others have several sprinkled across the year. Look to see whether your university offers specific postgrad graduation days or whether everyone is mixed in together.   

The OTT efficiency of degree ceremonies is super convenient as you have a date in your diary around which to make other plans. This is particularly true for international students, who may need to herd various family members across the seas for their graduation. The fact that universities publish graduation dates up to a year in advance allows for relatives to make the necessary travel and accommodation arrangements in good time. There will be a limit on the number of guests you are allowed at the ceremony, though many universities put on a lunch or tea after the main event which you may be allowed to bring more people to. 

Aside from the cost of travel and accommodation for out-of-towners, you may have to shell out to hire graduation robes, which you can do through your university. This isn’t very expensive, and some universities provide them for free.

What with all the extra plans and costs that graduating entails it’s not entirely unreasonable to see it as a bit of a faff.  However there’s no other event quite like it in one’s life; you can almost feel wisdom being conferred to you as you put on the gown and mortar board – that’s extra wisdom as a postgraduate. And let’s face it, for completing a rigorous and landmark qualification you deserve all the pomp and circumstance that comes with celebrating it!



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