8 Things To Look Out For At Every Graduation Ceremony

Graduation ceremonies are wonderful events, where you take the theme of leaping forward into the future and drag it out for a painful three hours. Ever since my high school one, six years ago, I’ve been to a decent number of them, and despite their worst efforts, there are several recurring themes in every graduation ceremony, things that frustrate, confuse and delight everyone involved. So, while you’re listening to the keynote speaker attempt to successfully complete a metaphor, here’s a checklist of sorts to keep you occupied.

At every graduation ceremony, you need to look out for:

1.       The Giant Game Of Musical Chairs

As you get older, it becomes harder and harder to find reasons to leave the house. You already have a wife, pizzas and a nice television there, so why would you go out looking for new, possibly uncomfortable experiences? It just doesn’t make sense.

You have to leave your recliner for your son’s graduation though, and so it’s time to put all the skills you forgot about, like organizing yourself in a large mass of people, to the test. It’s a test that most people fail, because when the only interaction you’ve had for years is making kissy faces at your dog and arguing with your spouse, doing things like quickly finding a chair to fall in becomes an arduous, enraging task.


The parents, freshly reborn into the world, will make their way down the coliseum stairs and everything suddenly becomes the cartoonish country boy’s first day in New York City. Every turn of their head becomes this frantic battle with displacement. They make angry asides to the people they came with, mad because other people have mastered sitting in chairs. They pass by perfectly good opportunities to sit down in their terrified search for the right spot and eventually just settle, grumbling into a seat that’s perfectly suitable.

2.       Everything Starting Late

Most college courses place a huge amount of emphasis on the importance of being prompt and ready for class when it starts, so it’s only fitting that everything begins late in a graduation ceremony. The band will sit, bored, and just tune up for an entire hour until they get the notice to actually play. You will see the front of the line of graduates in the back hallway, anxiously awaiting complaining about entry-level positions. And the people who are already seated will flip through their pamphlets for the third time to make sure that their child wasn’t magically erased from progressing into a career.

3.       The Wave Of Photo Bombs

It’s impossible to take a good picture while you’re in the actual ceremony. Outside, sure. The proud father and his son can take numerous happy photos when they get outside of the building. But inside, every photo blurs to the point that it looks like the people in them are set to mysteriously die later. You scream for your son to turn around, trying to make yourself heard over the band, and meanwhile steadying yourself for that perfect snapshot of when he turns around to recognize you for a split second before returning to his shuffle toward an aluminum seat.


That one in the middle is my son.

Graduation ceremonies are usually pretty big and crowded. There are going to be other people in the shot. It’s extremely doubtful that the classmates who have been waiting in line for forty-five extra minutes are going to notice your son, looking back into the crowd and making a “peace” sign, and say “Well, let me just hold onto this whole line thing. This guy’s got an important picture to take. No one step into the five foot radius please.”

4.       The Kid Who Gets No Reaction

There is nothing sadder than the one kid who gets absolute silence, and absolute silence is very different from getting a lack of claps. If you get no claps, then that just means that your family is a compilation of assholes. But with absolute silence, an entirely new wave of emotion enters the air, the feeling of people not just disliking this kid, but not knowing who the fuck he is at all.

The kid isn’t aware of it. He’s just happy that studying paid off and now it’s time for summer, but for the audience, it’s stunningly awkward. Everything was going beautifully, as the community of students lined up to accept their achievements, and suddenly Oliver Twist has climbed from the sewer to snatch his undergrad degree. I don’t know a lot about science, but there has to be a biological term for the feeling you get when no one knows someone so badly that the atmosphere around you literally becomes oppressive.

5.       The Failed Trick

Thanks to the magic of gifs, everyone who can do a backflip onstage can be anonymously famous on the internet. But no matter how un-dramatic it is, one of the graduates never fails to ruin what could’ve been a perfectly good dance or a wave. This can be due to a variety of things. Sometimes a dance fails because the audience is just too bored for it. They want the ceremony to be over so badly that when a girl prances on stage and begins to shake around, they see it as an attack on their hour.

Sometimes, their robe/body doesn’t allow for it. That’s why gymnastics competitors wear the exact opposite of gowns, because when you have flying human body parts, it’s better to have the most mobility possible. In a graduation gown, your mobility becomes that of an action figure that only flexes in two places. You’re doing something that your clothing wasn’t meant for, and while sometimes karma will allow you to pull it off, every once in a while, fabric takes over for cosmic fate and denies the user the chance to not look foolish.

6.       The Incomprehensible Speaker

Even if it’s your job, not everyone is meant to speak sometimes. This is never more true than at graduation ceremonies, where they have an abundance of speakers who are much better left off just clapping. While some may go smoothly, there never fails to be one speaker who turns their inspiring message about following your dreams into a garbled train wreck of a monologue.

I know what it’s like to flub up words. I’ve asked out girls before and at every job interview I’ve ever been to, I’ve thought to myself, Well shit. That’s the fourth time I’ve said that. I understand that you’re under a lot of pressure to make sure that nervous students know that everything will be mostly okay. So, doing a graduation speech must be a lot like cramming for that big test for an entire night, with the subject of the test being, in this case, the English language. Then, they get to class the next day and realize that they don’t remember the contents of an entire dictionary. If I had to give a graduation speech, I would probably make a lame joke, mutter something about how bad that joke was and then throw up all over the podium. I understand that it’s stressful.

But graduation speakers, take note: If you have a run on sentence, it’s way easier to just begin a new sentence rather than continuing to pile onto the confusion that you’ve already established. It’s easy to correct a sentence that doesn’t make any sense when you see it written, but when you’re speaking one and realize that you’re continuously sabotaging your own clarity, the brain usually doesn’t like to cut itself off. You get into this “I’ll fix it and loop it around in the end” mindset, but you always just end up thanking the audience for coming again.

7.       The Number One Bawler

Crying when something important ends is normal. Deadwood ended in 2005 and I still wake up sobbing sometimes, after dreaming of saloons and people yelling in Shakespearean dialogue. But as important as it was to you, there is always someone who has a much deeper connection to it. You can consider yourself the biggest fan of My Little Pony in the world, but think, somewhere in the world, someone just pulled the toy out of the packaging so that he could fuck the box.

"It'll be fine. Think of all the internships you have to look forward to."

“It’ll be fine. Think of all the internships you have to look forward to.”

There is always a person who looks like their life is crumbling around them when the graduation finally comes to a close. Their mascara bleeds down their cheeks and they hold their cap limply in one hand as they call everyone “sister” and hug for far too long. Just give them five minutes and they’ll fine and on to planning the beach trip.

8.       Terrible Traffic Strategies

I know that, when it comes to strategies on avoiding traffic, you’re a genius. You’ve come up with the master plan of leaving at a certain time so that you can speedily exit the coliseum parking lot. That’s why I hate to inform your super-mind that when you’re in a group of ten-thousand people, there are a lot of the same ideas floating around, and some of them might even be yours.

There is no perfect way to leave a giant event. If everyone left according to their master plan, there would still be a pile-up of cars. But the problem with being human is that as soon as we slightly screw something up, or have something screwed up for us (Say, when a person pulls out suddenly into our lane), every plan we might have had is lost and we revert back to the way we were when we were searching for chairs: We become bleating, anxious things that just want to sit down somewhere else.


Follow Daniel on Twitter.

For more things that go wrong, check out The 5 Most Frustrating Things About Using Craigslist To Find Jobs and 4 Team Building Games (To Confuse And Anger Children)

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