In addition to the traditional commencement ceremony with its cap and gown and congratulatory handshakes, valedictorian speech (or speeches) and recognition of outstanding achievements, most high schools, colleges and universities also have baccalaureate ceremonies. Formally defined as a religious service to honor the graduating class, in many institutions of higher education the baccalaureate has evolved into a quieter, more reflective event that focuses on students' personal growth and achievement.
Baccalaureate is usually done a few days before the commencement ceremony, and typically is not attended by as many people as attend commencement. For family members who are unable to attend graduation ceremonies held in large stadiums or gymnasiums due to physical limitations, the baccalaureate offers a less challenging space to maneuver since it is usually held in a smaller facility.
Often held in a house of worship, the baccalaureate is a non-denominational spiritual service that allows for public school graduates to find spiritual meaning that aligns with their personal beliefs. In private and parochial schools, the baccalaureate ceremony will have a stronger religious tone in keeping with the school's religious tenets. By holding the ceremony in a house of worship, schools subtly encourage attendees and graduates to slow down, appreciate the moment, take it all in and let emotions come and go as they will.
At religious private schools, the ceremony may include a benediction and sermon, often about the accomplishments made by the class and the challenges the future holds. A public school baccalaureate typically features student and faculty speakers, with class advisors given the chance to praise their students for a job well done.
Other special events during the baccalaureate often include performances by student choirs, vocalists and musicians, which allows for more introspection for both the graduates and the attendees. Many schools offer students who are not at the top of their classes (valedictorians, salutatorians) the opportunity to submit to speak at baccalaureate, giving the general population of the graduating class the incentive to write something meaningful to share with their classmates.
Baccalaureate is often a moving and emotional experience for students and families, not to mention teachers and administrators. With the weight of worry about grades, college admissions, job searches and more lifted for most participants, relief and pride mix to create a lovely experience for everyone involved. Family and friends, as well as students, will dress up for this more restrained and heartfelt ceremony, where for graduation everyone is usually a bit more relaxed in their attire and boisterous in their enthusiasm.
It's not unusual to see young men in sport coats and ties and young women in dresses and heels.
Baccalaureate is a great opportunity to take family photos before the mad rush of graduation begins. Especially if everyone has put an effort into looking nice, photos taken at baccalaureate can be just as special as those taken with the graduate in his or her cap and gown on graduation day. If a family is fortunate enough to have a student speak at baccalaureate, video is acceptable and encouraged in most situations. Watching your son or daughter express his or her emotions on this very special occasion is something no parent will ever forget, and something every student will be glad to revisit sometime in the future.
Because there are often dozens of graduation parties in each graduating class, baccalaureate is a good opportunity to plan a party of one's own. Baccalaureate is usually held on a weekday afternoon or evening, so celebrating with your graduate and special family and friends either before or after is a nice way to honor your child without competing with too many other parties, as you might do on a weekend.
Commencement is the main event, but baccalaureate can often be a more substantive and meaningful experience for parents and students alike. If you aren't sure if you want to attend baccalaureate, you should anyway. With high school and college graduation, a little reflection and pride is an important part of the process.
Edited by Sharon Greenthal