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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas