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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The first lesson of today is... don't treat women unequally?  

Yvette Cooper is right: The classroom is the best place to start teaching men about feminism

Chris Maume
Forty per cent of global trades in euros are cleared through London  

The success enjoyed by the City of London owes nothing to the EU

Nigel Farage
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial