Before my kids were born, I was a 12th grade English teacher and the graduation coordinator for a large high school in South Florida. The county rented space at the local performing arts center, and thousands arrived to observe or participate in commencement exercises. A few didn’t take the rules seriously… school board rules, venue rules, and even basic rules of etiquette were embraced by most, and the few who didn’t were disappointed in the result.
Why? It’s elementary: everyone (students and family included) have worked hard and waited a long time to get to this point, and it’s unfair to everyone who’s invested so much time and effort to have it ruined by someone who enjoys a captive audience. However, some schools, like the University of South Florida, have put the breaks on any graduation day outbursts, to the point that violating their rules may result in having your diploma withheld.
Just to be safe, make sure you observe the following rules of etiquette… there’s always time for fun and games after he Big Day.
It’s a Ceremony, Not a Pep Rally
The graduation ceremony may be held in a sports arena, but it is by no means a sports event. It’s a commencement ceremony and should be regarded as such. There’s plenty of time for celebrations afterward!
You don’t want to get locked out of the graduation ceremony…but it does happen. Think of it like a wedding: if you’re opening doors and trying to get seated during the proceedings, you’re being disrespectful to all involved. Ushers and security personnel may bar you from the ceremony, which would be a shame, especially for those friends and family members who travel to see you graduate. You may not walk the stage if you aren’t seated with your graduating class, and may have to receive your diploma at another time.
Don’t Try to Steal the Scene
Maybe your friends think it’s Extremely Amusing to dance like you’ve caught the game-winning pass. Perhaps you think it’s hysterical to hold the line up so you can take a selfie. It could be that the allure of having a large captive audience is just too tempting to resist.
Don’t, don’t, and don’t.
It might seem like innocent fun, but while the crowd reacts to your hijinks (or the boat horn your brother smuggled in), the next student in line is lost in the mix. Her parents don’t hear her name called, and her big day is lessened because she had the misfortune of being seated next to a fool. It happens. I’ve seen it one too many times, and it breaks my heart. You wouldn’t want it to be you, so extend the same courtesy to others… and pass the word onto someone who may not yet have a clue.
Make Sure Your Family and Friends Get the Memo
Even if you’ve every intention of giving the ceremony its due respect, it’s entirely possible that someone in your group isn’t waiting for the after party to cut loose with the merriment. That’s really kind of sad. It’s not about them… it’s about the degree, the school, and the people who’ve sacrificed to get there.
Shake Hands Like an Adult Interviewing for a Job
When it comes time to shake the hand of the school president, principal, school board members and other important individuals, a simple, sincere handshake is the way to go — the only way to go. Think of it as the first official step in your journey as a professional with a degree. Make it a good one.
Cross your hands so that you accept the diploma with your left hand and shake with your right. Pause for just a few seconds so the photographer catches the moment. Smile, and move along.
Remember: It’s a Long Ceremony
Consider that before filling up on coffee beforehand. You also might want to consider that it’s crowded and is likely a bit boring for younger family members, and they may not get as much out of it as you think. Will they become disruptive as a result?
Photos are Already Covered
While you may think you and your Uncle Bob have mad photography skills, so do the professional photographer whose job it is to capture the moment. As a graduate (and a person who organized high school graduations), allow me to emphasize the point that in most venues now, anyone approaching the stage with a camera will be escorted away, There’s no time for pose for them anyhow — it’s a smooth system that works quickly, and Bob is only going to gum up the works. Take your photos beforehand and after you’ve got your certificate in hand, next to your loving family and with time enough to get second and third shots, if necessary. Let the professionals snap the best on-stage photographs on graduation day.
In short, observing a few rules of basic etiquette on graduation day will make the ceremony run smoother, faster, and be much more satisfying as a result. The real class acts (and those most deserving of recognition) don’t have to seize the limelight to earn the admiration of their family and friends, and this, more than anything, is the point of commencement exercises.