BA (Hon)est: Graduate Advice #5 – The big day!

So it’s almost here: ‘the big day’! I’m talking about Graduation, of course(weddings are soooo 2009). Some students will already have graduated by now as it seems that every University has a different schedule for Graduation. I have heard of some Graduations taking place as late as January the next year, but as I’m a Lincoln-er, I graduated on the 5th September. I’m aware that this post might come too late for some 2014 Grads (sorry) but I know that the Lincoln GD class of 2014 is due to Graduate on Monday, so I wish them luck and hope this helps! I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since my Graduation and I have a reflection post scheduled for tomorrow so check back for that.

It is a day to celebrate the end of your education and everything that you have achieved – just think, in the UK most people are in education for 20 years, so no wonder there is a lot of hype and excitement around ‘the big day’. I always felt that there was a lot of mystery around the day too – it wasn’t ever really explained what goes on until it’s too late and you’re AT your Graduation. If, like me, you like to be prepared I thought you might appreciate a bit of an insight into what happened at my graduation. And some tips too, of course!

Ok so let’s start with how to prepare:
– Confirm your attendance and your guest tickets. This will need to happen months in advance to your Graduation date. Usually you will be allowed 2 guest tickets for free, with an opportunity to purchase up to 2 more at a later date. As you can imagine, there is usually a mad rush for extra tickets so if you do want to be able to bring your sister/boyfriend/grandma as well as your Mum and Dad make sure that you keep an eye out for the release date because they will be sold out within 30 minutes! I was lucky to get 2 extra tickets so my sister and Grandad could come with us but if you don’t manage to get extra tickets don’t worry. Really the ticket is only needed for entry into the ceremony, so if they are ok to entertain themselves for an hour whilst you’re in the ceremony then they’re still able to come and share your special day.

– Book a hotel. If you’re not local to your University I’d recommend staying over the night before. Usually Universities have a whole week of Graduation ceremonies so you can imagine that hotels will get booked up very quickly so the sooner you can get organised, the better the deal you will get! My ceremony was in the morning so I had to be at the Cathedral for 8 – 8.30am. Some of my friends drove from home on the day but had to leave at 5am – I didn’t want the stress of being stuck in traffic or to chance looking tired in my photos. You only graduate once (unless you do a masters) so treat yourself to a hotel stay!

– Book your gown and cap. You won’t be allowed to Graduate without them so they’re quite important! Your University will usually email details of the company handling the gowns when they confirm your Graduation date and time. Measure your head and height and order your gown before you forget! I think it cost around £50 to hire my gown which seems cheeky but it’s probably going to be the penultimate purchase of your University time(the final will be your Grad photos of course!).

– Book the day off work. Whether you’re working at Tesco or interning at Pentagram, book the day off. Most people only get to Graduate once in their life and it’s a rite of passage after you’ve just spent £30K on studying. I’m sure your employer will understand as long as you give them notice – I was interning at Frequency Festival in Lincoln at the time of my Graduation and the guys had no issue with letting me have the day off.

– Plan your outfit. It might seem like such a girly thing to say but remember, the photos taken at your Graduation will probably be pulled out at every family event for the rest of your life! One thing to consider is the colour of your University robes. At Lincoln these colours are cobalt blue and yellow so I opted for a plain cobalt blue dress to match. If you don’t know what your robe colours are, it should be quite easy to find out after a bit of googling/stalking other grads on Facebook! You might want to be really different and wear something a bit out there, it’s up to you, but in my personal opinion I think Graduation is about looking smart so trainers and tracksuits are a big NO! I’m not sure if you would even be allowed to Graduate if you turned up like that anyway? I think it’s a bit easier for guys because they can wear a suit and instantly look dapper. For girls, I recommend a dress or top and skirt combo which is quite plain (black, navy, cream, white or a block colour relating to your robe colours) and classic. It doesn’t want to show too much skin but I’m not saying it needs to be floor length! I saw a girl in a plunge front dress at one graduation which I thought was a bit inappropriate and also impractical because you will need to pin your gown somewhere – they have a mind of their own and are a right pain to get to sit correctly through out the Graduation day.

– SHOES. I have to highlight this because from personal experience I feel like it’s really important. The one thing you don’t want to do is fall over on stage. You don’t want to trip, stumble or slide – you want it to be smooth and over asap, trust me because I know! Please wear sensible shoes. Don’t buy a new pair of shoes and never walk in them before Graduation day – you know this will just end badly. Ladies, don’t wear really high heels when you do ‘the walk’. We all know that heels make our legs look great so wear them for photos before and after BUT when you go into the ceremony change into flats. I cannot stress this enough. I was wearing a pair of heels that I had worn numerous times and thought I was pretty steady in. I WAS WRONG! And to the lads; you might think that you’re safe, but shoes that are too big/have no grip can also make you trip!

– Book a meal. A month or so before the date I would recommend booking somewhere to go for a meal with your family. If you’re really organised you could book a big table with a couple of your friends – it’s a lovely way to celebrate after/before the ceremony and will stop your belly from rumbling! I didn’t book anywhere in advance because I wasn’t sure what my family wanted to do but luckily I was able to get a table at a small local restaurant on the day.

– Parking. The majority of people will drive to Graduation and that’s a lot of cars! Make sure you know the best place to park, how to get there and how much it’s going to cost you. Oh, and don’t forget loose change to buy the ticket!

– Odd bits and bobs. Things that you might want to pack in your bag the night before include: Graduation tickets, Gown hire receipt, a camera (whether its a dslr or your iPhone – make sure it’s charged!), safety pins (for pinning your gown), hair grips (for pinning your cap on your head and also to hold your gown in place on your suit jacket/shirt/dress) and a mirror(depends how vain you are but like I said, these are some pretty important photos).

So what can you expect on the day? Well, every University will have their own ways and methods but here is a quick round up of my day, a morning ceremony held in Lincoln Cathedral and Castle grounds.

8.00am – I arrived at Lincoln Castle nice and early. A lady helped me put my gown and cap on correctly so I didn’t look like a numpty (just felt like one – gowns are so awkward to keep in the right place!). Then I went to have my official graduation photo taken. I just had my photo on my own but there is an opportunity to have family group photos etc taken and then choose whether to buy them or not later so knock yourself out! Make sure you are happy with your photo because like I already said, this photo will probably stick with you for the rest of your life – I asked the lady to take several shots of me just so that I had enough to choose from! Then I found my friends and we had some cheesy photos taken etc

9.30am – The Cathedral doors opened so my guests headed in to make sure they got seated. I left them at the Cathedral doors to join all of the other Grad-to-bes entering through a side door. All of the students were seated at the front of the Cathedral in order of your course and alphabetical register. My seat number was written on my Graduation ticket (see above, I was H13 – unlucky for some!). The other half of the Cathedral was designated for guests. Some of the seats were quite far back but there were speakers and TV screens so that everyone could watch and listen. They even did a live stream online so that people can watch around the world!

10.00am – Before the ceremony, a speaker appeared on the stage and went through what would happen. So the helpers will prompt you, row by row, and guide you to the place you need to line up before you go on stage (for me, this involved walking half of the Cathedral). Your course title will be announced and then they read the list of names out. You wait at the side of the stage. They call your name. You walk onto the stage, take a couple of steps, turn to face the important people sitting on the stage, doth (salute) to them, take a few more steps to shake a hand (they take a photo at this point), then you walk off the stage and back to your seat. It’s quite a lot of things to remember, especially in front of about 2,000 people – no pressure!

10.30am – The ceremony begins – so make sure your phone is on silent! Everyone stands whilst those important people that sit on the stage enter/march in. There are some speeches and then the fun begins! After everyones done the all important walk, we all paraded out of the Cathedral, back to the Castle grounds. I don’t know if this is what every Graduation is like but it was very grand and special – I felt very important!

11.30am – It was time to toast (enjoying the 1 free drink token per guest) and take photos! There were a few props dotted around for photo opportunities including 3D numbers (2013), photo frames and some swans (it’s a Lincoln thing). Around the castle grounds there was a couple of different marquee tents where you could buy merchandise (my Grandad bought me a teddy, bless him) and the photos that they took of you shaking the hand on stage. You’d be surprised how hard it is to find your friends and arrange group photos – there are so many people from so many different courses around! My tutors told us to meet in the main lawn area and to spread the word but some people didn’t get the message unfortunately. The weather was beautiful and I have a lot of really lovely photos with my family, friends and tutors.

12.30pm – After exhausting the cheesy throwing in the hat in the air poses, my family was starting to get a bit hungry so we decided to go to look for somewhere to eat – if you’re clever you will have already booked a table somewhere (like I said, up there). I think the next ceremony was due to start at 1.30pm so the next lot of people were beginning to arrive – it was very busy! I returned my gown and mortar board, said goodbye to all of my friends and went for a family meal.

And that was my Graduation – you can read the post about my day including lots of photos here! A few of my friends were staying over night so I went to party with them in the evening. They stayed in the Student Village University accommodation (which was empty for the summer) – it was where we began our journey in 1st year. I don’t know if every University offers this opportunity but it was very nostalgic and a lovely idea.

I hope that answers any questions you might have, but like I said, every Graduation is different so make sure you check with your University for the schedule and order of events. I really hope you enjoy your Graduation and create some happy memories 🙂 Share your photos/horror stories with me – I’d love to read about them!

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© Natasha Nuttall | January 2022

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