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Dr. Kat’s List: Five Colleges with Fun Graduation Traditions

It’s May, and with the school year coming to a close, college seniors across the country are preparing to say goodbye to their university years and enter the real world.

Commencement is a tradition held at just about every college and university in the US, but some schools like to take the pomp and circumstance to the next level with fun and funky graduation traditions of their own. At these schools, there’s more to graduation than a cap, gown, and a short walk across the stage.

Here are five of Dr. Kat’s favorite schools with fun graduation traditions.

University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN
It’s not uncommon for graduating students to decorate their mortarboards when it comes time to graduate. The architecture students at the University of Notre Dame, however, take graduation cap decor to the next level.

Upon graduation from the School of Architecture, students decorate their caps with model buildings. From skyscrapers and bridges, to monuments and Ferris wheels, there’s no limit to the crazy cap embellishments. With a city of model buildings sitting on the heads of recent grads, the university can’t risk having these outrageous caps block the view of other students, so the architecture students usually have to sit in the back rows during the commencement ceremony. But it’s a small price to pay for some impressive cap decorations.

The University of Notre Dame, located in Notre Dame, IN, is a private research university with an undergraduate enrollment of just over 8,000. Notre Dame is very selective, accepting only 20.7% of applicants for the Class of 2018.

Smith College, Northampton, MA
Most graduates walk away from commencement with a diploma. At Smith College in Massachusetts, however, the diplomas newly minted alumnae receive is usually not their own.

The Diploma Circle is a tradition that many Smith graduates look forward to and dates back to 1911. After the commencement ceremony, graduates form a large circle and pass around diplomas. Once they come across their own diploma, they drop out of the circle. The tradition usually takes a few minutes before everyone has her own diploma and can then join family and friends for celebration.

Founded in 1871, Smith College is a private, women’s liberal arts college with an undergraduate enrollment of 2,600. Smith College is the largest of the Seven Sisters, and is the first women’s college to grant its own undergraduate degree in engineering.

Hamilton College, Clinton, NY
What started as a silent protest after Hamilton College absorbed Kirkland College, a small all-women’s liberal arts college, has become a tribute to the former academic institution.

Graduates from Hamilton carry green apples, the symbol of Kirkland, into the commencement ceremony, often placing them on the podium or handing them to the school’s president before receiving their diplomas. Female graduates also wear green apple pins during the ceremony.

Located in Clinton, NY, Hamilton College is a private, liberal arts college with an undergraduate enrollment of just over 1,800. Founded in 1793 as an all-boys’ school, it was chartered as Hamilton College in 1812 and became coeducational in 1978 after merging with Kirkland College.

Warren Wilson College, Swannanoa, NC
Graduation typically marks the end of an education and the beginning of a new chapter in a student’s life. College prepares gradates to make their mark on the world career-wise, but at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, students are also given the opportunity to physically make an impact.

When receiving their diplomas at graduation, students are also given a tree seedling, usually a hemlock sapling, to plant away from campus. Not only is it beneficial to the environment, as Warren Wilson is known for its commitment to green living, but it also symbolizes a new beginning and represents the mark a graduate will leave on the world as a Warren Wilson alumnus.

Located outside of Asheville, NC, Warren Wilson is a private liberal arts college with an undergraduate enrollment of just around 1,000. Known for its commitment to service and hands-on learning, all of the school’s students must complete 100 hours of community service over four years and 15 hours a week on a university-sponsored work crew in order to graduate.

Rhodes College, Memphis, TN
Many schools have campus superstitions that span the history of the institutions, and one at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN is rumored to determine whether or not a student will graduate.

The legend states that if an undergraduate steps on the college seal located in the Cloister of Palmer Hall, he or she won’t graduate on time, if at all. While it seems silly, students choose to avoid tempting fate by steering clear of the seal. Graduating seniors, after four years of heeding superstition, are then allowed to cross the seal during commencement. This symbolizes the end of their time at Rhodes, and for many is a small reward for remaining diligent.

Located in the heart of Memphis, TN, Rhodes College is a private liberal arts college with an undergraduate enrollment of just under 2,000. The school offers over 50 majors and minors, 100 student clubs and organizations, and more than 80% of Rhodes students participate in community service initiatives.

Other schools with fun and unusual graduation traditions include Wellesley College, Rutgers University, Connecticut College, and Williams College.

It may be graduation season, but it’s never too early for underclassmen in high school to think about where they will earn their diploma. If you need help establishing your admissions goals or building a balanced college list, contact us today for more information on how our team of expert counselors can help you.


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