To Walk or Not to Walk: The Pros and Cons of Skipping Commencement

College graduation can be lengthy and dull — but it's still a big event for students and their families. Learn the pros and cons of skipping commencement.

portrait of Anne Dennon
by Anne Dennon

Published May 13, 2022

Edited by Hannah Muniz
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To Walk or Not to Walk: The Pros and Cons of Skipping Commencement
Image Credit: Igor Alecsander / E+ / Getty Images


The pomp and circumstance that heralds the end of college is known as commencement — Latin for "beginning." What we think of as an ending was historically considered the start of the life and work of scholars.

Like baptisms and weddings, college commencement is an ancient ceremony, one that stretches back to the earliest universities in 12th-century Europe.

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But while those other ceremonial events are required by institutions, attending commencement isn't required to graduate. So the question is: To walk or not to walk?

Do I Need to Attend My Graduation Ceremony?

In a word, no — there are no academic repercussions to skipping commencement. There is also no requirement to be physically present at graduation in order to officially earn your degree.

While often referred to as "graduation," the commencement ceremony is just that: ceremonial. As long as you've fulfilled all the requirements for your degree, then you've graduated.

Whether you choose to walk or skip — officially known as graduating "in absentia" — you'll receive your degree in the mail in the weeks following the end of your final term. Diplomas are no longer handed out at commencement.

The Pros of Skipping Commencement

College graduation ceremonies in the U.S. are notorious for being long-winded, dull, and stressful. Here are three reasons you might consider skipping commencement on your big day.

You Don't Have to Listen to Long Speeches

Between walking through campus, processing into the venue, listening to speeches, and waiting through a lengthy roll call of graduates to hear your name, commencement often takes hours.

If you aren't in a sentimental mood, each of these chapters can feel like a waste of time. The speeches, in particular, can drag. Usually the college president has their say, as do other school administrators, high-achieving graduates, and, finally, the keynote speaker.

Colleges frequently bring in an illustrious alum or celebrity to deliver the keynote speech. While there's the potential to hear from someone famous or inspiring, the chance of getting an exciting commencement speaker may be declining as schools' selections have proven contentious in recent years. Dubbed "disinvitation season," student outrage continues to prompt speakers to withdraw.

You Can Avoid Waiting in Long Lines

Hundreds, if not thousands, of graduates, families, and friends mill around on graduation day. If big crowds aren't for you, know that commencement is even more crowded on campus than on a big game day. The crush of bodies can be especially noxious on a hot spring afternoon.

Leaving campus probably won't provide much relief from the chaos either. Particularly in small-to-medium-sized college towns, the influx of well-wishers will be filling grocery stores and restaurants off campus for likely the whole weekend.

If you plan to be on campus that weekend anyway but want to sidestep the mania, you might consider attending other smaller graduation events at your school.

At many institutions, individual colleges and departments, such as the School of Engineering or the Department of English, hold ceremonies for graduates the evening before or day after the universitywide commencement.

You'll Save Money on the Cost of Regalia

Normally, the cap and robe aren't provided by the college, meaning you'll have to fork out the money yourself. And the same goes for any honor cords or special garments associated with an honors college or particular degree track.

Many students aren't able or willing to pay for a one-time outfit, though cheaper options may be found online than at the campus bookstore.

The Cons of Skipping Commencement

Despite its reputation for being lengthy and boring, graduation continues to hold a special place in many people's hearts. Here are some of the biggest drawbacks of skipping commencement.

You'll Lose Out on Making Memories With Others

Beyond a memorable photo opportunity, attending graduation gives you the chance to celebrate with your friends, family, and cohort — to say goodbye, joke, pop champagne, and put on your glad rags (and then promptly cover them up with a nylon robe).

You might be surprised by just how many friendly faces you run into. And not just friends, but acquaintances you've enjoyed seeing on campus over the years, as well as professors whose teachings and thoughts have left a deep impression on you.

You Don't Get to Honor Your Accomplishment

College graduation marks a special moment in time — it's the culmination of years of education and, for many, the starting line of adulthood. Commencement bookends your college career and honors your accomplishment.

While graduating college may not seem like a big deal to some, it's a major life event that most people don't get to experience: Over half of Americans do not hold a bachelor's degree.

You Might Disappoint Your Family

All the regal backslapping may not seem all that meaningful to you, but it's likely extremely meaningful to your family.

Even though more Americans are attending college these days, older generations tend to retain high respect for college degrees. Seeing you march in with that goofy mortar board is all but guaranteed to swell their hearts with pride.

Ultimately, the graduation ceremony may be less about you and more about the support system that's seen you through your college years.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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