There’s no doubt that a student’s graduation from a US college marks a very big achievement. For four years these students have moved through their freshman, sophomore, junior and senior year tackling difficult exams, participating in college clubs and sports and making life-long friends in their residential colleges and clubs.
So beyond the amazing commencement day speeches that are a highlight of their graduation ceremonies, many universities have their own fun traditions to capture both the spirit of their school and celebrate a student’s achievement in completing their undergraduate degrees. After all, when students begin their college life, they are teenagers, and when they graduate they are adults ready to take on the world.
Here are ten universities which embrace some of the quirkiest, most unique, most historically significant and plain old fashioned fun graduation traditions.
Graduating from Stanford University - ranked Top 3 in the world - is certainly an accomplishment to be proud of! So how do students celebrate making it through the academic rigour of a world class institution like Stanford? By walking onto the football field dressed as dinosaurs, astronauts, bananas, lions, Roman soldiers, bees and more! Year after year, the Wacky Walk into the stadium is a fun balance to a commencement celebration marked by moving speeches and ceremony.
The highly ranked Liberal Arts University, Wellesley combines tradition with a fun competition and a modern twist. The commencement hoop rolling event which involves graduating seniors dressed in class colors and commencement gowns pushing their hoops with a stick down Wellesley’s Tupelo Lane, began as a May Day activity when seniors dressed up in children's clothing and played games on Severance Green (to relieve the tension of exams!). These days, the seniors race down the lane at a starting signal and the winner is carried away by her Wellesley sisters. In its earliest days, it was proclaimed that whoever won the Hoop Roll would be the first to get married...these days it is said she will be the first to be CEO of a major company!
One might be forgiven for thinking the seniors at the University of Austin, Texas had succumbed to final exam tension and resorted to open combat on university grounds. But the practice of seniors brandishing foam swords and charging across the campus’ main street on Foam Sword Friday is a tradition that dates back to early last century. In short, students, who can either bring their own foam swords or be provided one free-of-charge on campus, gather on both sides of the main street, foam sabers held high, and at a signal, charge at each other. They meet in the middle for some fun Game of Thrones style role play and then disperse just as quickly!
For centuries there has been talk of the Ivy League’s penchant for secret societies, and while admittedly the whole point of a secret society is that it remain well... secret, at Dartmouth College’s Commencement Day March, graduating students give us a few clues at to their allegiances. Some graduates will march proudly with walking sticks in their hands - sticks carved with the heads of a sphinx, cobra or phoenix - all symbols of different secret societies. The canes are the only public display of the student's membership in secret student organizations which date back to as early as 1783. There are fourteen senior societies on campus. The majority of societies keep their membership secret until Commencement, when members of senior societies may be identified by their carved canes.
In a tradition which is meant to give the graduating year a lifetime of good luck, the seniors at Williams College watch with bated breath as a watch is dropped from the 80 foot spire of William’s Thompson Chapel. A broken watch - according to tradition - indicates on-going good fortune for the graduating class. The ring of the Chapel bells marks a call to all on campus to come watch the Class Presidents drop the watch from on high. A broken watch brings cheers from the crowd waiting below!
While the students at the University of Colorado Boulder are accustomed to snowy winters, they are not used to attending commencement celebrations in the middle of late spring snowfall! But that is exactly what happened this year when the temperature in Boulder took a dive and students - starting their own graduation tradition - donned ski goggles, snow boots and snuggly, animal onesies to walk onto Folsom Field where the ceremony was to be held. What ensued was an impromptu snowball fight- to the delight of the students and all 20,000 in attendance!
There is a reason why Notre Dame’s architecture graduates stand out at Commencement - most notable because they are impossible to miss! Every year the university’s school of architecture graduates built impressive structures on top of their mortarboard graduation hats. There are skyscrapers, towers, castles, bridges and monuments - all carefully constructed and fixed in place above the gown wearing seniors who parade their architectural models with pride. Needless to say, the seating allocated to the architecture students is located at the back of the main floor section!
For years, eco-conscious campuses have been trying to reduce the environmental impact of commencement ceremonies by using less electricity or printing programs on recycled paper. But the University of New Hampshire has taken it one step further by providing their seniors with UltraGreen, medium weight, wrinkle-resistant fabric manufactured using recycled plastic bottles! UNH also participates in the Green Grad program. At the conclusion of the Commencement ceremony, graduates will have the option to donate their gown to be cleaned and recycled for reuse. Caps, tassels and hoods are the deserving graduates’ to keep!
Princeton’s Step Sing tradition dates back centuries! Held in the awe-inspiring university Chapel, Step Sing involves all graduates and alumni joining in as they sing traditional Princeton songs - and then some more contemporary songs chosen by the graduating class. There are often tears flowing as the students - who participated in a freshman step sing four years earlier - look back on their time at the New Jersey based Ivy League university.
In an effort to pay homage to tradition and acknowledge the bonds they have made over their four years at Smith College, graduates partake in the annual Diploma Circle. While at most universities, seniors walk across the stage to get their diploma, Smith graduates get a random diploma with any one of their 700 classmates' names. They then walk over to a field on campus to form the Diploma Circle and pass the diplomas from one student to another until everyone gets their own. The tradition, which dates back to 1911, has held many names over the years including the ‘Great Ring’ or the ‘Magic Circle’. Whatever the name, when the student steps out of the Circle with her diploma in hand, she knows she is officially a Smith alumna!