College Graduation: Pomp, Circumstance, and Unusual Traditions

My College Guide has mentioned unusual college traditions and superstitions before…but with all the exciting talk about college graduations all over the web — we thought you might be surprised to hear that many college commencement ceremonies are definitely not what you would expect!  Take a peek at some of the fun and unique traditions surrounding college graduation – and some of the fun events that you have to look forward in the future!

 Colleges with a large student body, like at Texas A&M University, decorate their mortarboards so friends and family can pick them out in the crowd!

sarowen / Sarah

For some colleges, it is all about the graduation gowns: they’ve gone green!  No, we aren’t talking about the color — colleges like the University of New Hampshire and Saint Michael’s College are wearing earth-friendly recycled graduation gowns created from plastic bottles.

The College of Charleston has a different take on caps and gowns: they just don’t wear them!  Spring graduates wear white — dinner jackets for the men and dresses for the women, while December College of Charleston graduates attire themselves in black tuxes or dresses.  No formal dress required at the University of California Davis – students go with the creative flow, decorating their mortarboards as they see fit, even wearing flowers and leis from friends and family.

Some colleges give a nod at their heritage, like Covenant College which includes bagpipes at their graduation ceremony.  While others, like Connecticut College, honor the college seal.  For almost twenty years, Conn College graduates have received an Eastern White Pine sapling, wrapped in blue and white ribbon, Conn College’s school colors, and green, that they will carry with them as they walk.

Saint Mary of the Woods College doesn’t receive a sapling but a crown of leaves.  The intertwined leaves are a symbol of success and a “well-rooted foundation” and are handed to graduates while at the Faculty – Senior Reception, traditionally held the week before graduation.  At Williams College, graduates hope for success as all eyes focus on a watch, or rather, the dropping of a watch from the top of the college chapel spire, a fall of 80 feet!   This Williams College tradition dates back to 1916 – if the watch breaks, the class will be lucky in life!

Columbia University graduates throw or wave items related to their college major.

Mira (on the wall) / Mira John

The University of South Florida new graduates, like many college grads, sing the USF Alma Mater at the end of the graduation ceremony.  Goshen College graduates sign their names in the college book, a 100 year tradition!  Oglethorpe University graduating seniors also sign a book – but not before gaining exclusive access to the Lutpon Hall Clock Tower and ringing the bells!  The College of William and Mary seniors line up to ring the Wren Building Bell after their last class.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology students have a different tradition – before graduating, MIT undergraduates wear their class ring, or Brass Rat, flipped around, so only the seal, motto, and skyline is visible.  When graduating, the ring is turned, to proudly display the graduation date!   Meredith College and Indiana University are a couple of other colleges that share this common college ring tradition.

Wondering about any new college traditions?  It might just involve Twitter!  Colleges like East Carolina University, Hampton University, and the University of Pennsylvania encouraged the Class of 2010 graduates to follow along or update their Twitter status during the ceremony – it’s a trend that is sure to catch on!

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2 Responses to “College Graduation: Pomp, Circumstance, and Unusual Traditions”

  1. It was the 143rd Commencement at the University of Kentucky, but the very first time cameras went backstage and on stage before and during the ceremony, live for the world to see. Check out the videos from the day here: We invited you to search the buzz around the day on Twitter through #UKGrad and visit us at! SEE BLUE at!

  2. Ocean County College will be twittering and posting to facebook throughout our 43rd Annual Commencement Ceremony, May 27th at 6:00 p.m. Congratulations to all of our graduates!!!

    OceanEdu on Twitter: #OCC
    Ocean County College on Facebook:

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