Tips for Graduation

Every year, at around this time, we’ll see articles for students on what to expect at graduation, and how to get through the day.Our own university Facebook feed has promoted this blog by one of our students Queenie Goredema who rightly focuses on outfit and makeup.

Previously we shared with students 49 thoughts that everyone has at graduation. Some of these are a bit sweary.


What we never see is the rules and guidance for staff, so here are some pointers.

Academic Dress

This is the only time of the year that you will wear robes. However, unlike your graduating students, you must wear with studied nonchalance – oh this old thing, I just threw it on. And really, that is how it should look. Graduands want to look perfect. Staff need to be so other worldly that the hood can be worn in a more “casual” manner. But never on the head.

This is an opportunity to check out the robes and hence academic background of your colleagues. The rules here are easy. Simple robes represent old and highly respected universities. The newer the institution, the gaudier the robes. Robes with significant amounts of embroidery were rarely awarded for academic success. Robes with gold embroidery usually represent management in private sector or overseas providers.

Under the Robes

Having reinforced the stereotype of what robes look like, and how to wear them, then we must take a deep breath and look at what goes beneath.

No matter what the standard wardrobe during the teaching year might be, this is a day when for men a tie really is needed. This is because it will hide where the hood attaches to the shirt. Ties should not match robe colours.

Again for men, suits are expected. This is because in midsummer, a woolen jacket, topped off with a gown and hood (possibly fur lined) is ideal, particularly under the hot lights on stage.

For women, again smart business wear. And safety pins to attach that hood.

For either gender, skirts or kilts are a minefield. Possibly cooling on a hot summer day. Potentially disturbing to the audience  if too short and you are sitting on the front row of the stage.

The Procession

The families of graduands will take this opportunity to video and take photographs of you. Try to look as if this is something you do every day (and for some people next week there could be 10 ceremonies to attend). Look as though you are having a deep academic conversation with whomever you are walking with. Keep your voice down though – nobody wants their parents’ video memories of graduation to have recorded your comments on  the snacks available before the ceremony

The Speeches

Look interested. You may have heard the same speech several times for the last however many years. Remember to laugh at the joke. Not too heartily.

Speeches by recipients of honorary doctorates should be attended to carefully. This might give you an insight into their possible benefit to the institution in future. Although you will probably never hear of them again.

Presentation of Students to the Chancellor or Vice Chancellor

Keep clapping. And again, keep clapping. Look delighted. Do not express surprise to your neighbour when someone who failed your first year appears. Do not mutter under your breath “plagiairist”, appeal”, “complaint” as the more challenging students cross the stage.

Shoes have become a major part of the graduation wardrobe for students, so you might be expected to notice. Don’t bother, just hope no one falls over.

Cheer raucously when a student kisses the VC or high fives them. Follow this with mentally arranging your next meeting with HR.

Post Ceremony

Keep your robes on. You may now have lost several kilos in fluid, but you are now a prop for photographs. Here, if you have a degree from a lesser institution, with those gaudy robes, then you will be a prime candidate to appear in photographs for overseas students whom you are not sure that you have taught. But at least you look pretty.

If you can gatecrash the senior staff reception, then this is the place for the best snacks. Make sure you engage a visitor in deep conversation as soon as you can. It’s much harder to be thrown out when you are looking busy. Leaving the reception clutching a couple of bottles of stolen bubbly doesn’t go down well. Hide it under your robes.

Remember, this is a day for your students, so enjoy, and remember that no one expects you to be reading your email or having work related discussions with managers. Enjoy it. Tomorrow it’s back to normal.