Comment & Analysis
Dec 11, 2017

Why Graduation is Just a Big Disappointment

Alanna MacNamee argues that graduation can be bittersweet for many students.

Alanna MacNameeContributing Writer
Sinéad Baker for The University Times

It’s the moment you’ve dreamed of ever since that envelope plopped in the front door, confirming that you would be going to study in the hallowed halls of Trinity, famously the alma mater of Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and (the rather less celebrated) Edmund Burke. Ah yes, graduation, with its fancy hairdos and your parents getting to feel a rare pride in your achievements – the event that spawns a plethora of new Facebook profilers. Graduation is a rite of passage, the perceived pinnacle of the whole of your four university years. It’s supposed to make worthwhile all those library Saturdays, the mini heart attacks before and after exams and the three grand you paid annually for the privilege of calling yourself a Trinity student.

So, when the long-awaited day finally rolls around, is the whole thing just a big, fat disappointment?

The hat, the gown – everything that makes for an Instagrammable day – aren’t automatically included. Delightfully, they are an additional cost, which, let’s face it, you effectively have to pay. The ceremony takes place in Latin – in theory, a nod to tradition and Trinity’s storied history. In practice, it means that no one understands a blasted word of it: it’s 2017, and the extent of most people’s Latin begins and ends with “Dulce et Decorum Est” for the Junior Cert. Not to mind the “keepsake” programme of events featuring the names of the day’s graduates: this year, it was a limp, photocopied bit of paper – not exactly the wonderful memento of supposedly the best years of your life, your intellectual blossoming. Frankly, I made better looking booklets for the school mass in Transition Year with a few Sharpies and a dodgy photocopier. Not good enough, Trinity.


So, when the long-awaited day finally rolls around, is the whole thing just a big, fat disappointment?

And don’t get me started on the “refreshments”. If there was ever a time you are in need of some good fare to fill up your belly, this is it – you’ve got some pretty heavy drinking ahead of you, meaning good stomach lining is essential. A few sandwiches turning curly at the edges – invariably with eggs for the vegetarian option (seriously, why?) – just aren’t going to cut the mustard, especially when the ceremony itself is a quick affair, short and not that sweet. Granted, no one wants to sit through pompous speechifying (especially in Latin), but if we are going to have a cold, quick, impersonal affair for the ceremony itself, let’s at least have a nice reception afterwards.

Another quibble (although not, to be fair, the College’s fault) with graduation is the pressure that comes along with it. Graduation Day has become a cultural moment, one of those events, like New Year’s Eve, that is built up for weeks, discussed proudly by your mum at her book club, in WhatsApp groups with your course mates. It’s a Big Deal. The problem with this, firstly, is that things just don’t live up to hype, as anyone who has spent New Year’s in a sweatbox of a club, into which they paid €15, before walking the streets barefoot, sparkly heels in hand, desperately trying to hail a taxi can attest. Hype sets things up for a disappointment. What is worse, we tend to brush over the fact that, for some people, graduation is a reminder that they bottomed out in their final exams, or that they didn’t quite make the 2.1 that they needed to get on their masters or their graduate job, or a reminder they were just one per cent off a first. Alongside graduates who’re off working for Magic Circle firms in London, there are going to be people who’ve had to move back into their parents’ home and are pulling pints in their local for €10 an hour. Graduation can be a day of disappointment for some, a reminder of unfulfilled promise, even as it is variously one of jubilation, joy and relief for others.

Making graduation such a big deal reinforces this cultural idea we seem to have that university is this magical place and experience

Making graduation such a big deal reinforces this cultural idea we seem to have that university is this magical place and experience, that it’s four years of discovery, hangover-free drinking and being an idiot without consequence. It effects a romanticising of sorts. Because, of course, it can be exciting being surrounded by brilliant, exciting and intellectual people, learning about the world and yourself, “kidulting” for a while. But, actually, university can also be a bit grim. It’s ok to have found the last four years bleak, to feel like BA shouldn’t stand for Bachelor of Arts, but Bunch of Arseholes. Making too much of graduation and thereby romanticising university life can eclipse or sideline other, no less valid, experiences.

So what conclusion is there to be drawn from these musings on the myriad problems of graduation? What should change? Well, graduation is a special day in the main, an acknowledgment that you survived College, that you got your degree. That is one heck of an achievement, and the College could really make some changes so that we have a graduation that actually reflects that. A little more care and attention, a move into this decade (or even this century) would be a welcome change and would show students that College does recognise their great achievement. But we would also do well to keep a bit of perspective around the whole thing, to be mindful that it can be a bittersweet day and not just a load of frolicking in a fancy outfit in Front Square.

Sign Up to Our Weekly Newsletters

Get The University Times into your inbox twice a week.