The graduation scene is usually a huge auditorium filled with all kinds of smiling men and women, young and old who are there to watch someone they love finish college.

Some have come hours early to be at the front of the lines.  Some carry balloons and some carry flowers.  You can see the pride on every face.  All have cameras at the ready.  They jockey for the best seats.  When the music starts, you can feel the emotion fill the room.

Another person will finish college.

Some schools have graduations twice a year, for winter and spring.  Very few have anything planned for the students who complete their degree work and finish college in the summer.  Those students may march either in the spring or the winter.

No matter what the season, plan to go.  This is part of what you have earned when you finish college. There is a wonderful energy in the air that you do not want to miss.

You also do not want to deprive your family members or friends of the chance to celebrate with you and to share in the happiness around your completion of this important goal.

They have most likely contributed time, money, or emotional support, and deserve to share the moment with you. After all, you did finish college.

We need to distinguish here between graduation as a ceremony and as meeting a legal standard.  The reality is that most schools let you march at graduation even if you have a course or two to complete and a plan to get them done immediately. You can finish college.

If there is a significant lapse, such as an undone senior thesis paper, then you may have to defer graduation.  Each state sets forth rules for academic standards and may mandate the number of credits that must be fulfilled, for example.  At the ceremony, the college president says something like, “By the powers vested in me by the state of Nebraska, I now declare you graduates of the University of Nebraska.”

Don’t you just love it when you finish college – your whole world awaits.

You do not actually get a degree and finish college unless you are certified by the registrar as having completed all obligations, academic and otherwise.

If the process is done in a timely fashion you may get the diploma and finish college that day.  If the school allows leeway until the last hour for students to complete their requirements and for last grades to be tallied, then they mail you the document within a month or so.

You may march at graduation, but not get the official degree until sometime later, when all requirements are fulfilled and verified.  Once you have the degree in hand, you have actually graduated and feel proud of your ability to finish college.

Graduation involves more than just the one ceremony to finish college.

Many activities and traditions are observed and many matters considered in the run-up to the big day. The yearbook, like yours from high school, is a keepsake of photos of your classmates and memorable events during your time in school—ranging from theater productions to sporting events and random activities.  As an alumnus, you may refer to it years later to see how you and your friends and classmates looked back in the day.

It may be where some of your accomplishments and activities are reflected.  Some schools include home addresses of the graduating class to make contact easier, though these may be on the alumni Web page as well.  The yearbook may reference noteworthy events of a national or local nature that had an impact on you and your classmates: wars, floods, elections.

To that extent, it is a kind of time capsule of these years and worth having. It is another item for the senior-year budget.  These days, you may have an e-yearbook online.  Many yearbooks from past years are also available online. Those who finish college are very lucky today indeed.

Tickets for graduation are a huge source of stress and contention, as few schools have the space to accommodate all the students, faculty, and family members and friends who might like to attend.  The school may ask you how many tickets you need up to a top limit, or they may offer an exact number, which can be as few as two.

As soon as you know your school’s rules, let your friends and family know, so they can make arrangements.  If you have more family than tickets, see which of your friends may have spares because their families may not be able to travel or get off from work.  For both planning and security reasons (especially if there are famous guests, honorees, or speakers), schools are now quite strict about the dispersal of tickets.  The event may be indoors or out, depending on space available and traditions.

An outdoor service may allow for more persons to attend, but the weather can be a huge factor.  I have sat, soggy under umbrellas, as speakers under a tent went on and on, and I have been freezing during inclement spring weather.

On a hot day, students are tempted to wear shorts under their warm robes.  Families are certainly advised to prepare for weather at outdoor events.  Indoor services restrict the numbers that can take part, especially at large schools, and there can be restrictions on bringing in balloons or other items.  Guests should plan to be at the venue a good hour before the event begins, to line up for seats, go through security if needed, find seats, and settle down.

You should think carefully about children, whether your own or those of siblings or other family or friends.  They are often the motivation for going to school, and you want them present at this special moment. They will see what it looks like to finish college and be more motivated to finish college themselves.

At the same time, however, these events are crowded and, for young ones, boring, given the length of time children are expected to sit still and be quiet.  I have seen grandmothers or husbands have to miss the main moment because of a crying or fussy baby.  If you can leave children home or with a sitter, that may be best, but you know your own family and what is the optimal situation.

Let the school’s graduation planners help you with any family member or friend who needs special accommodations, such as wheelchair seating or signing for someone who is deaf.  Security is able to help in a health crisis.  Individuals have been known to faint, or pregnant guests to go into labor.  Schools are ready for these contingencies, based on years of experience.

Several kinds of graduation-related events may take place.  Most happen around the spring graduation ceremonies—common is a prom or other big social activity involving the entire school or just a division or department.  Students themselves plan events as well, including dances or pub crawls.

Once more, a caution about the binge drinking that is so common at this time of celebration.  A special event can become a tragedy at the pop of a beer can.

Some colleges have traditions that go back many generations.  Some are serious ceremonies and some amusing. Departments often throw parties for their graduates and families.  These present excellent opportunities for your family to meet the professors they have heard so much about (good or bad!).  Professors are inclined to say really nice things about you to your family then, too. After all, you are one of the few who did finish college.

The various kinds of events held can be determined by the size of the school and some by tradition.  At a large university such as NYU, Michigan, or UCLA, where there are several colleges within the university, a baccalaureate service and/or a graduation or commencement ceremony are held.  The baccalaureate event is for the specific college and allows for a more intimate ceremony, with personal recognition of students, inclusion of all faculty, and perhaps a student speaker from the college.  College-wide or departmental special events may be held, where awards are given out.

The most prominent speakers appear at the main commencement or graduation service.  They may be the President of the United States, popular entertainers, businesspersons, or famous alumni (who could in fact be any of the above).  The college president speaks and perhaps deans and/or the provost.  Besides the main speaker, noteworthy individuals, sometimes alumni and sometimes not, may be given an honorary degree acknowledging their contributions to society.  These honorary doctorates signify that the work they have done in their lives is equivalent to the learning achieved and recognized by the doctoral degree.

Particular student achievements are often recognized.  One of the main honors is being chosen the valedictorian, the student who has earned the top place in the class by virtue of an exceptional GPA and perhaps a factor related to service.  This is a major honor.  Even later in life, it is a credential that can be cited.  Typically this student is selected to speak on behalf of her or his classmates at graduation.  Often the administration also chooses a “runner-up,” the salutatorian, who also manifests academic and other excellence and may also speak or be acknowledged.  These students, along with key administrators, members of the board of trustees, honorary degree recipients, key faculty, and other noteworthy students form the platform party, which sits in front of the audience of graduates, families, and friends.

Many elements of graduation like the robes faculty wear are considered traditional “pomp and circumstance.” Another is the processional song itself, popularly known as “Pomp and Circumstance”. When that music begins and you begin to march it is one of the most special feelings you will ever have. Bravo to you!!!!

graduationDr. Cantarella is the author of I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide (www.icanfinishcollege.com) and a consultant on higher education, access and success. (mycantarella@icanfinishcollege.com) This excerpt  is taken from Chapter 11 and the focus is on what happens when you finish college.