10 Things Nobody Tells You About Graduation (Featuring Pictures of the University of Sunderland Graduations)

The past three years of my life has flown by. I have met so many people I am thankful for. This post is not for them though. This post is for you; the people who will graduate soon, or those who wish they had this knowledge before graduating.

My graduation was on Tuesday. That is where these pictures are from. They are of me, my friends and my peers. I hope it will give a genuine feel to the advice I give you.

Here they are: 10 things nobody tells you about graduation.

1. Not everyone’s robes look the same.

Depending on what degree you’re graduating from, the robes you wear will be different. For example, MA and PhD robes are a lot more extravagant in design, as seen below:

The BA graduates with our lectures. Colin Younger is in his Masters robes. Alison Younger is in her PhD robes. All look fabulous.

The BA graduates with our lectures. Colin Younger is in his Masters robes. Alison Younger is in her PhD robes. All look fabulous.

Also, different universities do things in their own way. Philosophy students in Durham graduate in red robes. And sometimes they sit in court and decide if Harry was lying about the Dementors.

York University students graduate in grey. I don’t have a photo of that, but I can assure you that I have a devastated friend who will be wearing grey robes for her graduation next year.
The black is traditional, and you are likely to wear your university’s colours. The University of Sunderland is orange and blue. We all looked great.

2. Your robes are not made for a woman to wear.

That’s the fun thing about traditions. The older they are, the more likely it is that they exclude people like you. The robes go back centuries; women going to university does not. Rather than redesign how the robes work to accommodate for that, they’d rather we remained uncomfortable all day.

Basically, the robes slip off your shoulders and they won’t tie to you. See, there’s a discreet tie that you put around your collar button. That keeps everything in place, and your robe in position.

Can you imagine what problems I had in my dress?

We struggled...

We struggled…

... People like Ali did not.

… People like Ali did not.

3. You need a lot of safety pins.

This, surprisingly, is not something we were forewarned about. It’s vaguely linked to the above point; sometimes, your robes just won’t fit right. Your university colours aren’t attached to the robe. They’re a separate item of clothing that will not stay on your shoulders. They need to be pinned down.

This is an easy thing to remedy if you always carry safety pins on you. I am not a human pin cushion. I had nothing.

It would have been great if it had stayed on my shoulder for more than three seconds.

It would have been great if it had stayed on my shoulder for more than three seconds.

So I’m taking a moment to thank the man who had a spare pin on his person that he generously donated to me. You stopped me losing a very expensive rental. Please, make sure you have plenty of safety pins at your graduation. Don’t be as stuck as I was.

4. Speeches are a thing that happens.

I mentioned last post about the Vote of Thanks. Well, now I can tell you a little more about it. It comes at the end of the ceremony, and one student of the faculty is chosen to give thanks. This year, we had Lee Mitchell as our representative. Lee is a good and close friend of mine, and I may be biased in this, but his speech was amazing. He addressed the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor, as all the speeches that day had, and he talked about the people all students give thanks to: the teaching staff, the support staff and our Student Union. There was even a shout-out to friends and family, and Lee may have mentioned a few of his friends by name (including me. Lee’s speech made buying the DVD worthwhile).

The face of a public speaking GENIUS

The face of a public speaking GENIUS

He was nervous. Of course he was. But that didn’t stop him, and plenty of people have told him it was the best Vote of Thanks the university has had. Claps for you, Lee. You deserve all the credit.

5. Sometimes you graduate with celebrities.

About half way through our ceremony, we were introduced to a celebrity fitting of our degrees. Ann Cleeves is a well-respected crime author, and something of a local legend in the north-east. She is the author who inspired the ITV show Vera, and on Tuesday she received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters.

Ann Cleeves, accepting her Doctorate. My family was very impressed by her.

Ann Cleeves, accepting her Doctorate. My family was very impressed by her.

This is something which happens often. Those who are deemed to have made a big enough impact in their fields are awarded honorary degrees to celebrate their achievements. She wasn’t the only celebrity honoured this week: Jason Cook, the writer behind Hebburn, was given an award on Monday. Ann Cleeves was at our graduation, and we graduated alongside her. Admit it, that is pretty impressive.

6. Everyone is nervous.

There will be a lot of you graduating. It’s not just the people you’ve been studying with. It’s the entire department. For us, it meant graduating with the combined subject students, the history students, the education students… There were hundreds of people I hadn’t met. There were even people on my course that I’d never had the fortune of running across.

So you’re in a sea of strangers. There are hundreds of people watching you, and you have to be dignified and composed as you cross the stage. Yes, it’s okay to be nervous. Yes, you will be afraid of tripping on camera. It’s natural, and I am the last person to tell you that nerves are a bad thing. What you need to remember is that in the end, everybody is in the same boat. And looking out in to the crowd… no one can tell that you’re nervous.

When in doubt... #selfie it

When in doubt… #selfie it

7. Everything is over quickly.

Lee mentioned in his speech that university is not a job factory. I wholeheartedly agree. Graduation on the other hand is a conveyor belt. There are various checkpoints along the way to the stage that you have to hit. Your robes are adjusted, your name is checked, then checked again, then checked again, and only then will you be called up on stage. From there, it’s a regal walk to shake hands with the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor before accepting your “degree”.

A well-timed shot, courtesy of my auntie Lindsey.

A well-timed shot, courtesy of my auntie Lindsey.

So all that worry, and I can promise you that it’s over in seconds. You’re sent back to your seat, and you get to enjoy the rest of the ceremony.

8. You don’t get a real degree.

A harsh title to this point, but give me a moment to explain. The piece of paper they hand you at the end of the conveyor belt is not your degree. It’s more of an IOU. It would take too long to present you the certificate properly, and there’s a lot of certificates to get sorted in such a short amount of time. You receive them weeks afterwards. But the rolled up piece of paper looks good in the photographs. So don’t worry, as so many did, when it was a little creased or bent. It was a decoy.

Picture not linked. I just needed some Steve Watts appreciation in my blog.

Picture not linked. I just needed some Steve Watts appreciation in my blog.

9. You’re not allowed to wear your mortarboard.

This, dear reader, is the biggest surprise of all. You may have noticed in the pictures from the actual ceremony, no one is wearing their graduation cap. You’re actually told before the ceremony starts that you’re not allowed to wear them yet. You don’t get to put them on until the end of the ceremony, when the Chancellor tells you that you can. It was a culture shock for us too. The people who help you dress put the hat on you so that you can try out the size and have pictures taken, but they don’t warn you that the hat needs to come off. It’s why your hair should be simple on the day; for easy headwear removal.

By the end of the day, you're glad to give it back.

By the end of the day, you’re glad to give it back.

10. You won’t get a lot of family time.

I had eight people come to my graduation: my mam, my brother, my sister, my nanna, my granddad and my three aunties. The most time I spent with them was in the car ride to the Stadium of Light. I went to dress alone, came down to the lounge to see my family for all of five minutes, and then the graduates were pulled away.

Graduation is your day. There is no denying that. It’s a celebration of all that you have achieved and a time to show that you’re proud of your accomplishments. But everything is timed with little time for deviation. Even after the ceremony is over, you want to seek out your friends to congratulate them, and find the lecturers who helped you to get where you are. There are photographers in bucket loads, and my friends and I were even asked to do a video interview for the university.

It was a busy day. My advice to you is set a cap. Say you’ll leave at a certain time and stick to it. Go out for a family dinner or something. My family understood that I had a lot to do that day. They’ve always been supportive of what I do. It would just have been nice to give them more quality time.

I'm obviously the best-dressed of the Gallon siblings.

I’m obviously the best-dressed of the Gallon siblings.

And that’s it. I wish someone had told me this before my graduation. I’d have been less nervous. If you have any questions or requests for a new post, you can always use the Contact Me page of the blog. I love to hear from you. This post was requested by JJ. I hope this helped.

And so, dear readers, we reach the end of another post.

Let me ask you this: what did you wish you had known before graduating? Do you have a graduation story of shame? And did you graduate recently?

Let me know your thoughts.


About Stephanie Gallon

I'm an author, a blogger, and a zealot of all things written. I work as an English teacher in England, and have a PGCE PCET, a distinction in MA English studies and first class honours in BA English and Creative Writing. I have more degrees than friends
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8 Responses to 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Graduation (Featuring Pictures of the University of Sunderland Graduations)

  1. Thanks for the invaluable advice. Now to keep it safe for just under a year! 🙂


  2. Donna Shorten says:

    Brilliant advice, can you tell me if it’s best to go really early to make sure parents get good seats, where do you keep your cap before putting it on? Thanks. X


    • Hi Donna!
      Every graduation will be slightly different. I would say that most would have a screen so you can see up close. We were at a football stadium, so it was a necessity. They’ll be able to see. But if they’re prone to taking pictures, I would recommend it. Ask your lecturers for a timeline.

      You keep the hat with you. I wore my hat for my photo, and later had to take it off. had it on my lap and left it on my seat when I went up to receive my degree. It’s totally safe.

      Good luck, and congratulations on graduating! Let me know how it goes 🙂


  3. Ginette Clarke says:

    Thank you so much for this; I’m
    Graduating at Sunderland next week and this information will make my life so much easier 😀


  4. Mostly true for me, definitely the thing about your gown/sash not fitting properly and slipping off your shoulders. So annoying. We wore our mortarboards all day, though a friend from Oxford said they don’t wear theirs so obviously depends on the uni. Also we got our certificates on the day, just after we stepped off the stage, so that was nice, although it rained all day so I had to hide it under my gown to keep it dry.


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