A Guide to Graduation Day | Top Universities

A Guide to Graduation Day

By Laura Tucker

Updated April 9, 2021 Updated April 9, 2021

Ah, Graduation day: The biggest day of your life so far, apparently. And although it feels like only yesterday your parents were dropping you off at your first year halls of residence, tears in their eyes, they’re now back, Dad in a ridiculously outdated double-breasted suit and Mum in a garish feathered fascinator (until, that is, you swipe it from her head and chuck it in the nearest bush).

There’s been colossal build-up to your graduation ceremony – from measuring yourself for your gown, to getting enough tickets for the family, and now all you need to do is see it through the day. Contrary to the hype, graduation day can actually be pretty stressful.

Don’t let this put you off however, as graduation day will be a lasting memory of university life and is a day where you’ll be the subject of pride in the eyes of your parents, your tutors and your peers, having successfully completed your degree.

To help you avoid disappointment, here’s what to expect from your graduation day…

Your parents will probably be more excited than you. Humor them.


Yes, you’re excited to be free of the ties of constant assignments and obligatory dissertation meetings, but this excitement is also tinged with the undeniable fact that you are now a fully fledged adult expected to fend for yourself and find something worthwhile to do. For your parents, graduation day probably couldn’t have come sooner, as it not only means that they’ve successfully raised an educated child but also that you might soon stop scrounging from the Bank of Mum and Dad.

Their pride upon envisioning those new letters adjacent to the family name will no doubt lead to tears, tight, squeezy hugs and even more tears. Instead of getting embarrassed and batting them away, embrace the moment, hug them back, act humble and laugh it off if you have to.

Everyone and their mum will get a bit snap-happy.


If it’s not your dad pointing his new iPad at you haphazardly while coaxing you to “say cheese”, or a friend’s mum wanting a group photo of everyone, it will be the professional photographer constantly pointing out that you’re holding the prop diploma scroll all wrong (apparently it does matter).

Although you’ve got jaw-ache from standing around smiling while you wait for dad to find the right setting, just keep taking deep breaths and remind yourself it’s only one day. In years to come, you’ll be glad to have the many photos – even the slightly lopsided and badly lit ones – as evidence of this historic moment.

You will sweat. Profusely.


It took you months to pick out your graduation day dress/suit. But, come 11am on the big day, just five minutes after donning your gown, you’ll have drenched your new clobber in perspiration. Expect to feel, look and smell something like an overused gym towel. Don’t fret, however, because unless some lucky graduate has gotten their antiperspirant on prescription, everyone will be in the same “B.Oat”. (Get it?)

In the meantime, while consoling yourself that there’s no such thing as scratch and sniff photography, keep hydrated to prevent the risk of passing out on stage in front of your principal, sweaty underarms asunder.

Prepare for mortarboard hair.


Named due to its tendency to cement your hair to your head*, the mortarboard is every well-groomed graduate’s nightmare. Once you and the gown hire company have managed to find a cap that fits, then it will be welded into place with the sharpest hairgrips known to man, messing up any styling you did to your hair.

It’s for this reason, then, that the only time students look truly joyful on their university graduation day is when chucking their mortarboards as far into the air as possible. (Just try not to get thwacked when it comes back down to earth).

*Almost true. The mortarboard is actually named due to its similarity to the flat plastering tool used by cementers. Who knew!

Remember, walking is easy…


It’s natural to feel a little anxious about walking across the stage of your graduation ceremony in front of an audience full of peers and loudly whooping family members. You’ll begin to doubt your ability to put one foot in front of the other while looking straight ahead, all the while wondering whether to smile, look serious or to risk wiping your clammy hands on your robe before shaking your principal’s hand.

Remind yourself that if you can write a 10,000-word dissertation on the neurobiology of placebo analgesia, then you sure as hell can walk 10 steps across a stage in a fancy gown without falling flat on your face. Unless, of course, you’ve decided to wear six-inch heels. In this case, either switch to flats or practice how to style out a fall gracefully à la Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars.

Accept that you’re an adult now.


As your parents have probably told you multiple times, sometimes adults have to do things they don’t necessarily want to do. For some of us, enduring the entirety of university graduation is one of those things.

Your graduation ceremony will require a lot of sitting down, standing up and applauding people you don’t know, but this doesn’t mean you can just leave once your name has been called. Your peers are supporting you so it’s important that you do the same for them by clapping along with everybody else. You’ll be sweaty, have achy hands from clapping so much, and will probably start to feel a bit restless, but you have to sit through the whole thing and try not to complain. Besides, when you get out you might be given a glass of champagne, and can toss your mortarboard in the air with your peers with all the joy in the world. Just try not to think about, you know, Adulting.

Did your graduation day live up to expectations? Have you mastered the art of keeping a mortarboard in place? Share your experiences in the comments below.

This blog post was originally published in April 2014. It was updated in July 2018.

This article was originally published in July 2018 . It was last updated in April 2021

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