The Big Day

The day you have been waiting for has finally arrived! Whether you’ve spent the weeks following your exams in the country of your dreams, your parents’ back garden or your uni bed (making up for lost time), this day has probably been weighing on your mind since the day you realised how difficult it is to measure the circumference of your head.


Of course, everyone’s experience of Graduation Day is different – Universities go about the ceremony in incredibly varied fashions, and each family will celebrate in their own way.


Naturally, the entire experience of graduation begins with working out what size cap and gown you’ll need for the day. Honestly, the gown isn’t really the kind of thing that’s going to fit you anyway and it’s more of an overall effect sort of outfit, so as long as you’re not going to be tripping over on your way to collect your scroll, try not to worry about it to much. The cap is definitely more important size-wise. You’re likely to be wearing it all day and trust me when I say that a pink ring around your head really will ruin your photographs. Go half a centimeter bigger than the actual circumference of your head; I wish I had!


After exams (or before, if you’re really prepared) comes the monumental task of finding something to wear. For the men, it’s easy – a decent suit, nice tie, and a polished pair of shoes. For the ladies, not so much! Not only is there the classic issue of purchasing something that doesn’t clash with your sash (we had yellow for BSc and brown for BA… Terrible!), there are decisions to be made about length, style, and importantly, shoes!


I feel I made a decent decision on the dress front. I went for a French Connection smart dress in a powder blue, which I can now wear for work or interviews. It was a little thick for the weather we were blessed with (26 degrees and blazing sunshine), but when preparing for a graduation in July in England, you never really know what sort of weather you’ll get. I spent a long time trying to find shoes to wear that would be appropriate for the occasion, having been lured into a belief that the shoes were the most important part of the outfit. I made a terrible choice. Unlike one of my course friends, who made a stunning entrance in her brand new Christian Louboutin stilettos (yes, we were all jealous), I opted for a very sensible wedged sandal, in a shade of yellow to match the sash on my graduation gown. Honestly, I’ll forever regret my shoe choice. They look chunky in my photos and I’ll probably never wear them again.



Obligatory family photo, clearly displaying my incredibly stupid choice of shoe.


Personally, I really underestimated the sheer distance I would have to walk at my graduation. My own experience at Royal Holloway went as follows:


I arrived on campus at 12pm for a 1.30pm ceremony, along with my family. I went to the allocated room to collect my cap and gown, which was an incredibly orderly process, and then lingered outside with the rest of my cohort. I had been told to take safety pins with me by a friend who graduated the year before, and this was the best advice I received about the day. The gown and sash do tend to slip and by safety pinning them to your dress you avoid a lot of hassle. Similarly, if your cap is a little on the large side, taking some hair-grips will stop it slipping into your face or spinning around on your head. Lots of pictures were taken and it was a strange experience meeting my friends’ parents. We were divvied into a lecture theatre that acted as a kind of holding room, and the Dean spoke to us briefly about what would happen and our futures. We were all given a red card, and had to sit in order in the holding room, so that as we filed out we would still be in order for the ceremony.


I have no idea what happened in the actual ceremony while I was in the holding room. I think there was a guest speaker and the Dean gave a similar speech to parents. As a group, we then processed from our holding room across part of campus to the main Founders Building. From here, we processed (in our neat orderly line) through the picture gallery where guests were seated, and then through the chapel, where the ceremony took place. This was followed by what felt like a lifetime of standing outside in the sun waiting for our names to be called one by one. I made my way to the front of the line (which took forever as my surname starts with S), and handed my red card to the appropriate person. This was handed over to the Dean who read my name, and I collected my scroll. I then processed back down the aisle of the chapel and picture gallery and made my way to the graduate marquee, which was basically a gazebo with a few tables to lean on and a live stream of the ceremony inside.



Honestly, I have never even spoken to half of these people…


Once the ceremony was complete and the Masters and PhD students had also collected their scrolls, the guests left their seats and were relocated to us. We all stood either side of the pathway and cheered as they came out, thanking them for raising such brilliant children. The entire party was then moved into the other Quad area of Founders. There was a champagne reception with canapés and a LOT of photographs were taken on the steps. Most people dispersed after the group shot was taken and I went off to have my professional picture taken. If you were really nice to the Dean, he let you hold the ceremonial Mace to have your picture taken. Having this taken at the end of the ceremony was a real error on my part. I didn’t book in early so didn’t really have much choice about when to go, but by this point I’d sweated off the vast majority of my make up and my smile is evidently laced with feelings of distress about the pain in my feet. I couldn’t wait to get going.


I was, however, very fortunate. My best friend was able to rent her gown for longer than a day, and this allowed her to come to my graduation ceremony too, keeping us company and featuring heavily in all my graduation pictures. As many of my friends at University were met through a society, it was really lovely to be able to share my graduation experience with someone I’d grown so close to.



Sharing the event with the best friend I could ever ask for. Ironically, also the best photo of us.


Once all the photos were taken, we made a quick dash back home for a cold drink and a sit down (and to pack up some of my belongings for moving), before heading out for dinner. My Grandmother was incredibly generous and took us all out (including the aforementioned best friend) to dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Stovells in Chobham. It was absolutely delicious and a great way to finish my University career. I received a couple of gifts, which was a lovely bonus, and I’m still waiting on the one from my Mum as I won’t have anywhere to put it until I’m in my next house – watch this space!


All in all, graduation was a significantly less stressful event than I’d built it up to be in my head. I was blessed with amazing weather, fantastic friends, and a supportive family. It’s a long day, but a lovely send-off into your new life.


Of course, I have only been to one graduation ceremony and cannot speak on behalf of all graduates. Because of this, I asked a few of my friends from other universities to give a brief overview of the events at their own Alma Mater, so that finalists pending graduation can get a general overview of what to expect on the Big Day.


Eleanor – Graduated with an LLB in Law from University of Sheffield, 2016

The ceremony was about two hours long, we had a guest speaker and various speeches but most of the ceremony was taken up with people walking across the stage shaking hands with the Pro Vice Chancellor. It was held at the Octagon Centre (Hallam grads get City Hall?!) then we went to the Law School afterwards for drinks and pictures


Angus – Graduated with a BA in Music from York St John University, 2016

Ceremony in York Minster opened with a graduation fanfare and precession with the Archbishop of York followed by the chamber singing “I was glad” by Parry. Degrees were given out over around 2 hours and then there are normally 3 honouree graduates that speak, then the chamber choir singing “Locus Iste” and the African drums played as we leave through the great west doors!


James – Graduated with a BSc in Maths from Durham University, 2015

1 hour ceremony in Durham Cathedral including a speech from the chancellor, 2 subjects at a time. They do like 17 sessions. Afterwards we had drinks with the maths department staff where they handed out awards. Went for lunch with my best friend from home who had come to the ceremony, dinner with my family at a college formal.


Louise – Graduated with a BSc in Physiotherapy from Oxford Brookes, 2016

Arrived at university, picked up gowns and got dressed, walked over to ceremony destination (brookes sports centre lol). Ceremony was about an hour long – speeches etc, walked across stage to shake hands with special guest. Afterwards all went over to a marquee outside the law building, free unlimited champagne and nibbles, photos taken, then went home. Professional photos had a time slot.


Craig – Graduated with a BA in English from Cambridge University, 2013

Rehearsed in the morning back at college, walked in a procession for a mile to the Senate House (disregarding all traffic), lined up in our order, few bits of latin spoken, few more bits of latin spoken, they start calling people’s names, we go forwards in groups of four to hold a finger of one of the college proctors, as we are individually called, we release said finger and go and kneel in front of our college Dean, close our hands as if in prayer to the GODS OF DEGREE, she closes her hands around ours, says some more latin, and LO, THE DEGREE IS CHANNELED FROM ON HIGH. Then walk out and on the way out you get passed a plastic bag full of goodies and then they try to get you to spend £50 on having it framed, and give you a drink of something bubbly. You have to do this while dressed in some sort of fur, the species of which is dependent upon your academic seniority.

Only upon typing out the above do you really truly realise how ridiculous it is.


Jon – Graduated with a BA in History from Bristol University, approximately 20 years ago

Cathedral, Latin, Speaker, 2 hours of awards, champagne. Not sure there was too much more apart from photos.


Lily – Graduated with a BSc in Biochemistry from Bristol University, 2016

Went to the student union early in the morning to pick up (and get put into) my gown (no mortar board – very upsetting but the boys fault) and pick up tickets, then went to have my photo taken (with a mortar board – yay!). Then wandered around campus with my parents to wait for the ceremony…then when to the Wills Memorial building (super cool!) for the ceremony, lots of talks, can’t remember who spoke but she was a really good speaker, and then I was the first on stage to shake hands with the guy and walked off again…and then spent the next hour clapping everyone else (it was super boring). The biochem faculty did put on a buffet lunch but it was 2 hours after the ceremony had finished and not many people were going, so we went out for lunch and then headed home again.



Leigh-Anne x