Walk or Not: Should you go to your own Commencement?


Something is wrong when I hear more stories about graduates not bothering going to their commencement than those who do.

When did receiving recognition for an accomplishment go out of fashion? I’m the type of person that revels in accomplishments – both big and small. Seeing as I’m still working toward my degree, most of them up to this point in my life have been small. I know this because I hold on to all them – including a beleaguered bowling pin in my closet bearing my name and an old date in Sharpie for having the highest score on the last day of a youth bowling camp. I also keep an old shoebox under my bed with cheap plastic soccer trophies I won as a 7-year-old just to remind myself that I’m a winner. Same with old birthday cards from relatives that reaffirm I’m unique. It may just be the packrat in me, or it may be the fact that I like to hold on to good memories.

If you YouTube commencement speeches, you’ll get a bunch of ones from Harvard and Dartmouth where some famous person who didn’t go to that college offers up their recipe for success. Here in Alaska, we can’t attract top-talent to be our commencement speaker, but whose to say we want to? The closer to home our speaker is, the more clout they should have with us. Struggling out of bed in the cold and dark at 9 a.m. is one of the many signature experiences every college student in Alaska has the pleasure of enduring. A commencement speech given by a fellow Seawolf will undoubtedly strike at least one chord with you … unless you just transferred up last semester from Hawaii.

At this point, you’re probably thinking of a counterargument to my stance like my colleague Mr. Burns. Excuses like, “it costs too much money, Nolin!” or “it’s just for my family” just won’t cut it. What is an extra $50 to buy a cap and gown when you just unloaded $40,000 on your education? If you have siblings who graduated, chances are their gown is tucked away in some closet waiting to see the daylight on at least one more occasion. So what if Mom and Aunt Martha make a big deal out of this stuff… Even if you could care less, “walk” out of your love for them. After all, if it wasn’t for family support, not many of us would even be graduating college in the first place. Remember the care packages, the Thanksgiving trips home, all the love shown over the last four years. This is your opportunity to do something nice in return for them. It means a lot more than we even realize.

Who knows? It could even be the time of your life! When else will confetti rain down over you a la an Alaskan snow storm but without the cold and wind in your face?

See you there.


“Why aren’t you going to walk for commencement?” It’s a question that every student who doesn’t walk at commencement gets asked incessantly by people who aren’t the person graduating. There are other reasons not to walk other than being harassed by busybodies, and if you choose to save yourself two hours of grief, you shouldn’t have to defend your choices.

Graduating students get sorted alphabetically into their seats and get to sit through a two hour ceremony before their thirty seconds of fame. The commencement ceremony is always a dry affair, students get showered in generalities by a variety of university bigwigs they haven’t met, telling you how proud they are of you for contributing to the graduation rate and their sincere hope that you live productive lives, full of happiness and regular contributions to the alumni organization.

You get to hear the commencement speakers give a series of interchangeable speeches. You will hear “what an honor it is to speak to you,” about how you should “follow your dreams,” and “always keep learning” while “passing it forward” as you “question everything” because “the future is in your hands.” If you miss this part of the ceremony, I recommend looking at the motivational pictures on your aunt’s Facebook wall or opening a bunch of fortune cookies for an equivalent education in trite, vaguely-applicable life advice.

Last, and possibly least comes your 30 seconds of excitement, you have your name read, you get to walk to the stage, get a handshake, and a piece of paper while the whole stadium cheers for you. Well, cheers is a strong word, everyone else isn’t here to see you graduate, they are there to see their loved ones walk, and happen to be polite enough to clap while they wait to hear a name they recognize.

You will miss a chance to spend your Sunday, waiting around for hours with people you don’t know, having spent $50 on robes you can never wear outside of Halloween, all for 30 seconds. It’s like waiting in line at midnight for the newest Harry Potter book, but instead of getting to enter a magical world of friendship and adventure, you get a receipt confirming your purchase of a college education a week earlier than you would have gotten otherwise.

What about the memories? College makes, according to the vast majority of people who have gone, some of their fondest memories. Won’t you miss out on that by skipping commencement? You might remember playing video games until six in the morning, the time you crammed a semester’s worth of studying for missed classes, or completing a 20 page paper, or your first love and first loss. You’ll fondly recall friends, relationships, and experiences. You won’t ever fondly look back on sitting through commencement. If someone thinks that commencement is important, ask them how often they think of it. Ask them the name of who sat next to them, what their commencement speaker said, and which faculty members handed them their diploma. The answers will be telling.

Regardless of what you choose, remember that YOU choose. You didn’t spend the past 4 years becoming an adult, to not be able to decide for yourself.

Written by Nolin Ainsworth

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