Spring graduation is starting to become more and more real as we enter May. We’re not quite a big enough institution to have a reasonable indoor venue for the spring graduation ceremony, so the powers that be ended up switching to an off-campus facility. Apparently, this change was in part due to having multiple visitors suffer from heat exhaustion (or at least dehydration severe enough to require first-aid) after broiling in the Sun during the ever-lengthening ceremonies. When it wasn’t raining and/or hailing.
I was an undergraduate at a large university and the graduation ceremony for Arts & Sciences was held in the basketball arena. I believe there were about the same number of graduates as the average total attendence (including students) at spring graduation at my current institution. It was pretty boring, with not a lot else beyond the lengthly precession of graduates going on stage to shake hands and to get empty diploma holders. We were alphabetized across the entire college, so unless you had a big social life, you generally couldn’t sit near anybody you knew. But, my Mom and stepdad could easily get there, so I did it and we went out for lunch afterwards.
I didn’t walk for my PhD because of the likelihood of not having anyone at the ceremony who even knew me. I defended about a month before the end of the semester and I believe that my advisor was already on another continent long before graduation rolled around. I only felt reasonably close to one or two other members of my committee. No one in my family was going to make the trip. If I had made a bigger deal out of it, maybe that would have been different, but my family is blue-collar and the people who might have came were nearly a thousand miles away and didn’t work jobs where you could get vacation days on short notice (I could have failed my defense, after all). Most of the other students that I would have thought of as my cohort were “finished” one way or another. I don’t think anyone else from my department was graduating that semester; it wasn’t a big McProgram and was in decline at that point. The ceremony was simply an add-on to the usual undergraduate ceremony so it wasn’t very special. I finished grad school teetering on bankruptcy and would not have had any financial help with the required academic regalia. Also, my job search had failed, so I was going to be staying on as a low-paid lecturer for a year. Thus, I certainly didn’t feel much pride in getting the degree. The blush was long off the rose by then.
Back to recent history, through my pre-tenure years I used an old Masters gown left behind by a former faculty member. A lot of faculty at my institution only have Master’s degrees, so it didn’t look very out of place. Once I got tenure, I decided to fork over the $700 to get “official” regalia from a company that rhymes with “Nerf bones”. The gown looks sort of shitty because of the color scheme, but I suppose it’s better than a plain black gown and mortarboard.
We faculty march in, then sit nicely out of the way for three hours having absolutely nothing to do with the ceremony itself, then march out again; pretty typical. They could replace us with cardboard cutouts and it would be about the same. We never have a featured speaker of any particular fame or interest, just a one-percenter from one of the two or three most popular fields we offer. The student speaker is sometimes entertaining, but usually heavy with student in-jokes.
While it’s probably all fine for the students and families, the main worthwhile thing about our graduation ceremony from my point of view is that there is a reception afterwards where we get to mingle with the new graduates and their families. Not all graduates stick around, but the finger food is better than the crap we get at faculty-related meetings the 2 or 3 times a year when we get anything at all. I generally hate these kinds of things, but it’s actually nice to get to congratulate the students in my department. It’s one of the few gatherings of any sort involving faculty that not only is actually positive, but doesn’t really have anything negative. My institution screws up many of the perqs that could come from being a small institution, but we get this one right.