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New Student Tip #5: Graduation Terminology

programs on chairs

Programs await graduates at NU’s 2015 Commencement.

As a Northwestern student expecting to receive a degree, it will be helpful to understand two terms associated with graduation:

Commencement: the university-wide ceremony at which speakers address all students, and the university President verbally (and thus only ceremoniously) confers degrees upon the students. For the MSC program, names of the previous year’s cohort are printed in the catalog, although the current year’s cohort is invited to participate in the ceremony. The university’s commencement is in June.

Convocation: a separate ceremony at which you will actually receive your degree. MSC’s convocation is in August.

I’m sure it seems a long way off, but if all goes as planned you’ll be receiving information about graduation sooner than you might like. Here at NU, individual colleges, programs, and sometimes even majors have their own ceremonies at which degrees are awarded to the appropriate students. The university graduation event is an entire weekend in June during which many of the ceremonies are held. Commencement is of course one of these ceremonies, and one of the few to which everyone is invited.

Although this splitting of ceremonies was a new concept to me (and continues to vex friends and family), it makes sense if you consider the number of students involved. Having participated in the 2015 Commencement, I think the system actually works quite nicely. I appreciated the opportunity to march as part of a university-wide graduation ceremony and to hear the speakers, but I also appreciated not having to endure the calling of a very long list of names as each student received her diploma.

I was glad I participated in Commencement, but knowing it was not my real graduation yet, I felt a bit excluded from the excitement and sadness expressed by the people all around me. Most MSC students this year opted out, and I can understand why. In August, we’ll have our own ceremony with our own speaker. We will have the benefit of all recognizing one other, and I bet there will be some real, genuine excitement and sadness of our own.