This month college students at UIS and across the State will be graduating. And unlike the past two COVID Years, most will celebrate a “normal” and “in person” graduation ceremony. To all our College graduates, UIS graduates, and graduates everywhere – congratulations! As I extend these well wishes on behalf of our faculty, staff, fellow students, and Dean’s Office team, I thought a simple congratulations was perhaps not enough. Just what is graduation, what is commencement, why are they important life milestones? Let’s take a brief look.
Commencement is often referred to as "graduation," but “commencement” is actually different. Indeed, commencement is a ceremony. It is a formal gathering for students who have successfully completed their degree requirements by the end of the academic year. Surprising to many is that you don’t actually receive your diploma at the ceremony. You get a diploma cover/case. You get your diploma once all your grades/credentials are finalized. But the pomp and circumstance, robes, sashes, cords, speeches, marches, music, and recognitions for certain awards and accomplishments are all a part of the celebration of those who are graduating. It is a special event and quite the accomplishment.
Graduation on the other hand refers to the academic term in which you have officially and successfully completed all degree requirements. For those of you watching the ceremony, there is a lot of behind the scenes work leading up to the graduation event. A graduation application needs to be completed, a final course review is conducted, and clearing any College or University issues must be resolved before you can actually graduate.
Now the ceremony for graduating students actually dates from the first universities in Europe (circa 12th Century). At that time Latin was the language of scholars. That legacy of Latin phrases, terms and conveyances still lingers on. A university (universitas) was a guild of masters with license or credentials/experiences to teach. The Latin term "degree" and "graduate" come from gradus, meaning "step". Step one is a bachelor's degree. A second step was a master’s. The third step is the doctorate degree. At that point, the graduating student gains admission to the universitas and a “license to teach.” Today there are bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees (all of which UIS will be awarding this May)! But there are many other graduation ceremonies taking place for high school and two-year colleges and other ceremonies that bestow academic credentialing.
As many of you know, because you have already graduated at some level, these 12th Century customs continue in the form of candidates wearing a gown, hood, and hats adapted from the daily dress of university staff back in the Middle Ages. Indeed it was similar to the attire worn by medieval clergy. Over the years, the academic regalia has changed, with colors for different academic disciplines and other distinctions made by various university or association committees. For example, students earning bachelor’s degrees at a graduation should wear a gown with pointed sleeves, and it should be closed; master’s degree recipients should wear gowns with oblong sleeves. Black gowns are recommended, and gowns for the bachelor’s or master’s degrees are untrimmed, but, for the doctor’s degree the front with black velvet; three bars of velvet are used across the sleeves. These facings and crossbars may be velvet of the color distinctive of the disciplines of the degree, agreeing in color with the binding or edging of the hood appropriate to the particular doctor’s degree. Today, academic regalia includes three standard items of dress: the gown, the cap and the hood. There is of course a mix and match that often occurs when regalia is worn.
However, the pomp and circumstance is always there. For example, a University Mace with distinctive shields and coats of arm is used in graduation ceremonies and is carried in front of the academic procession. The mace symbolizes the authority and independence of the university. An academic procession is a traditional ceremony in which university dignitaries march together wearing traditional academic dress. An academic procession forms a usual part of college and university graduation exercises where each College, by degree to be awarded, is presented to the graduate by the academic dignitaries in attendance. And in the US, “Pomp and Circumstance” will typically be played but other music arrangements are possible.
I hope this overview helps give new graduates, parents, friends and guests (attending graduation), past alumni, stakeholders and friends some insights into what you are seeing on stage. But, as our College graduates walk across the stage to accept their Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctoral degrees please join with them in celebrating this important life milestone. For graduates, don’t let your accomplishment get lost somewhere in all this pomp and circumstance.
Graduation, and the celebration honoring that, is really your accomplishment, a product of your hard work, a testimony to your dedication, a commitment to your studies, a promise of a future, and the prospects for a great career or future studies. Take in every moment. You should be especially proud because did you know that just 41% of first-time full-time college students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years and only 60% earn a bachelor’s in six years. And only about 15% go on to pursue graduate degrees. You are indeed in a select group that has earned your degree. Because you will be graduating from the College of Public Affairs and Administration it is also about taking your degrees and serving the public interest and making a difference in your neighborhood, state, nation and world.
You did it…you graduated and will go on to productive and meaningful careers and lives. The College of Public Affairs and Administration and UIS and our faculty and staff are very proud of your accomplishments. Enjoy your commencement, don’t forget this College or your University, and best wishes to all!
"I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." —Michael Jordan
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing.” – Pele
“When you leave here, don’t forget why you came.” — Adlai E. Stevenson
First issued as the May 2022 Public Affairs Minute by Dean Robert W. Smith, College of Public Affairs and Administration on 05/04/2022.