Graduation as a Ritual of Closure

A little story about myself: In the darkest moments of my graduate career, when I wasn’t sure I had the energy to finish, one shining beacon would keep me going — the thought of being able to wear the professorial hood at other people’s graduation. When I received my PhD, after the ceremony where I rented my cap and gown and hood, my academic advisor gifted me with a hood in University of Illinois regalia colors, and I wear it to this very day to students’ graduations.

According to “A Field Guide to College Professors”, this hood belongs to
someone with a Ph.D. from University of Illinois. You can tell from the
navy blue with orange stripes.

I teach three classes and handle the internships in my department, Behavioral Sciences, at Northwest Missouri State University. Between students in my classes, advisees, and interns, I work with about 150 students a year. I can tell the graduating seniors in the class after midterms — this is when they start counting the number of days until they graduate, and they’re extremely accurate. In fact, one class posted the number on the board every class period. A student in another class could calculate the days to commencement to the hour.

When one of my students asks if they should go to Commencement, I say “YES!” Why? There are some downsides to commencement (graduation) ceremonies — for example, they run long, gowns are hot and sweaty, commencement speakers are boring more often than not, and there are big crowds at the cookies and punch.

However, without going to commencement, students may never feel like they’ve graduated. Commencement ceremonies provide a sense of completion and closure through their ritual — the graduation gowns, the processional, the professors in academic regalia, the discomfort of the flat cardboard caps that students often decorate, the selfies with friends and professors.

This selfie with a student was taken right after the final for the class.
Hi, Maggie!

Graduation and its ceremonies create a sense of completion and closure, as I said earlier. More important, they provide a rite of passage, something that is spiritually important. In the US, we have a crisis of rituals for passage into adulthood — high school graduation used to be the rite of passage into adulthood, but we no longer consider it so because of college. However, not all high schoolers go to college, so those teens no longer have a rite of passage. On the other hand, we don’t consider college students as adults, nor do they consider themselves as adults. This might help explain things like street gangs, which provide a sense of family and an initiation ritual that could serve as a ritual of passage.

I try to include rituals in my writing, as they’re so important in keeping a society together. We have religious ritual, academic ritual, holidays. Some of us have individual rituals, like mine of having my annual alcoholic beverage (Irish coffee) on Christmas Eve. Social/community rituals tie us in with our “people”, our community, our society. They give us a definition and a sense of community.

Something to think on.

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