Here's the diploma, now buy the video

Graduation ceremonies just aren't the half-hearted efforts they used to be, laments David Lister

Related Topics
Graduation day used to mean a clear and precise routine for students. You'd tell as few people as possible about it; make a detailed study, for role model purposes, of Dustin Hoffman's performance in the 1968 film The Graduate; and get through the day fortified by whisky or valium.

Hoffman, sullen and confused, was feted by his proud and adoring parents; offered all sorts of jobs by his father's friends (recall the memorable dialogue: "Ben, I want to say just one word to you. Plastics." "Plastics?" "Plastics."); and ended the day being seduced by Anne Bancroft. Which is how a graduation day should be. It is the setting for a last act of sulky rebellion, crowning an adolescence spent perfecting the art.

Alas, no longer. Graduation day job offers, like graduation night seductions, are thin on the ground. And students no longer take a diffident, nonchalant attitude to the occasion. Far from it: they want to be there, they want their parents and friends to be there, and they want a professional video souvenir.

This month, apparently,record numbers of students are attending graduation ceremonies, with universities preparing to sell them photographic year books, and specialist private companies gearing up to flog them videos of their 30 seconds of fame as they receive their piece of parchment. The commercialisation doesn't end there. The smarter universities have instant framing services, so that your degree certificate can be framed before your very eyes.

At this point spare a thought for my own alma mater, the University of Kent. Having achieved the coup of holding its degree ceremonies in Canterbury Cathedral, it now has to direct new graduates out of there and down a side street to buy their videos and other memorabilia, because the Cathedral authorities have banished the video salesmen from its precincts.

No university is immune from the Americanisation of graduation day. At Cambridge in 1954 fewer than two-thirds of graduates attended the ceremony. Each brought an average of two guests. This year, 99 per cent of graduates will attend, each inviting five guests on average. Southampton University has a graduate marquee with closed-circuit television of each department's ceremony to accommodate "overflow" guests. A spokesman for Cambridge University says there has been a revolution in student attitudes. "No one could possibly have imagined 20 years ago that so many young people would enjoy dressing up in fancy clothes and inviting granny along to drink warm champagne for the afternoon."

As it happens, we did sort of enjoy it. But secretly: it did not do to make an overt show of empathy with such an establishment convention. Yes, we would don the daft gowns and mortar-board hats. But it would be a matter of pride to ensure that the hat was on crooked and that a tie- dye T-shirt was exposed beneath the gown. Lengthy pseudo-surreptitious glances of despair to friends proclaimed that we really took a dim view of such public displays of self-aggrandisement.

Besides, the whole affair was psychologically disturbing. Who were these parent people who had suddenly sprung up all over the campus? They had never been mentioned in conversation over the last three years. Yet here they were, straightening the collars and hats of a squirming offspring who only a week before bestrode the college corridors dispensing pearls on Proust and Pink Floyd to admiring disciples.

Then there were moments of panic when a begowned, proud possessor of a BA Hons (third), whom one knew to be a hippy drug peddler, came into view of the family group. But these were offset by moments of mockery. You'd bow to the chancellor on receiving your degree unless you had a first, in which case he'd bow to you. A quick whisper to him that his flies are undone and thousands of people suddenly applaud you for achieving a first.

But the days of schizophrenia about graduation ceremonies are clearly gone. These events have become part of theme-park Britain, complete with videos, souvenir programmes and, no doubt soon, faked photos where you can be seen receiving your certificate alongside William Shakespeare and Albert Einstein.

I have a hunch that if Dustin Hoffman had come bounding into his graduation party clutching a frames certificate and video, Anne Bancroft would have driven herself home.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power