Here's the diploma, now buy the video

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

Share
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

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

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game