You might have heard about them, but you’ve never been to one. However, if you are soon to be part of such an event, you might have already wondered: what is a baccalaureate ceremony? The famous cap and gown ceremony is already well established, but a commencement ceremony is not the same as a baccalaureate ceremony. Nowadays, most education institutions, including high schools, universities, and colleges, keep such traditions, in addition to the ones marked by valedictorian speeches and celebration of outstanding achievements.


What does the word ‘baccalaureate’ mean?

To understand what this service is all about, it is crucial to understand the meaning of the word behind it. One etymological explanation says that the word comes from two terms: ‘bacca’, which stands for ‘bachelor’, and ‘lauri’, which stands for ‘oration’. Another perspective refers to the tradition of crowning scholars with laurels on their graduation day. So, a translation could be ‘crowned with bay laurel leaves’.

All these interpretations have common points. They are about giving speeches, recognizing students’ effort to finish their education, and offering degrees. Therefore, no matter which definition you prefer, the spirit of the baccalaureate service becomes clear.


So, what is this ceremony anyway?

A baccalaureate ceremony is usually held before the graduation event, and it requires a quieter, more private approach when compared to the commencement ceremony. This type of service is focused on the student’s experience and celebrates the end of one stage in his or her life, and the beginning of another.

Such a ceremony is considered the ideal opportunity for students to focus on their rite of passage. It is a common occurrence that keynote speakers are invited to such ceremonies to offer advice to the students finishing high school or college education. It is not unusual for students to make a display of their musical talents during such events. A series of speeches usually mark such ceremonies.

Back in the day, a baccalaureate ceremony was a type of religious service held in the graduates’ honor. Such traditions used to be held starting with the 1400s, by most universities. However, that connotation lost importance over the years. Now it is a quiet event with a focus on the personal changes and development experienced by students at this moment in their lives.


What is the origin of the baccalaureate service?

Widely spread in educational institutions throughout the US, this type of service doesn’t originate here. History teaches us that the first important institution to establish this tradition was the famous Oxford University, located in England. According to evidence, in 1432, the graduates of the prestigious institutions had to hold religious sermons.

Today, you won’t be required to keep a speech in Latin, as the Oxford graduates in the 15th century, but keynote speakers will offer their advice and insight to those who are about to graduate. The tradition was passed to American universities, and while the focus on religion has waned considerably over the centuries, the baccalaureate service appears to be here to stay.


When does the ceremony take place?

Commencement ceremonies are usually attended by large numbers of people and are an open affair, when everyone, including graduates’ friends and families, is invited to attend. In contrast, baccalaureate ceremonies are addressed only to students, and they are not open to the general public, as a general rule. For this reason, such events take place in small facilities.

As for a timeline, you should know that this event usually occurs several days before graduation. So, the commencement ceremony traditionally takes place after the baccalaureate ceremony.


Where does the ceremony take place?

Since such ceremonies have roots in a religious type of service, despite their nowadays more secular nature, baccalaureate ceremonies are often held in houses of worship. This service maintains a spiritual connotation, despite no longer being religious. However, parochial schools might opt for a religious note since they cater to a specific type of education.

Another reason contributes to this choice of venue. By picking houses of worship as the place for holding the ceremony, the organizers subtly recommend students to assume a more reflective stance so that they can observe and experience this rite of passage as they should.


What happens at a baccalaureate service?

Usually, this ceremony consists of several speeches held in front of the students who are about to graduate in a few days. Keynote speakers can be important members of the education institution, valedictorians, and other prominent figures. For instance, a public school might have its superintendent hold a speech, and it is not uncommon for influential members of the community to be invited to these events. It is possible to have other activities included, but all in line with the reflective, quiet nature of these events.

Religious schools are likely to opt for a sermon at the beginning of the ceremony, given their orientation. The sermon is usually focused on the students’ accomplishments, as well as on what graduates should expect in the future. Not only top of the class students will be praised, but others who have accomplished academic feats. The class advisors are typically the keynote speakers who talk about these things.

As mentioned earlier, musical performances are the norm. Choirs, musicians, and vocalists now have a chance to perform in front of their colleagues. This ceremony aims to allow the attendees to focus on introspection and on this rite of passage that facilitates the beginning of a new stage in their lives. Schools can allow students who are not valedictorians to hold speeches.

This is an excellent idea for stimulating everyone to participate in a meaningful manner. Since anyone could speak in front of the rest of the class, it is an occasion for showing hidden talents. Someone could have a knack for words, without his or her grades to reflect that particular skill; by offering this opportunity, schools can promote a more inclusive approach of the baccalaureate ceremony.


Why should you attend a baccalaureate service?

With graduation around the corner, emotions are running high. The possibility of attending an event that can give you an insight into not only what you feel but also what others experience during this stage of their lives will allow you to deal better and prepare, mentally and emotionally, for the road ahead. Don’t worry; you’re not the only person going through an emotional upheaval during this time. Students’ families, teachers, and people in charge of your school are all participants.

The adults know about the trials ahead, trials that the soon-to-be graduates will have to face, such as being admitted to the college of their choice, finding a job, as well as a path in life. All these emotions create a mix of anticipation and a bit of anxiety, and this type of event is thought to facilitate the transition from one life stage to another.

This ceremony requires a particular dress code, as all the attendees are expected to dress in a more restrained manner. At the commencement ceremony, graduates can wear more casual clothes, but each event dictates the type of attire they should choose. Ties, dresses, and overall garments usually worn by adults can be seen at a baccalaureate ceremony. This choice is not random since one of the purposes of this event is to help young men and women feel that they are stepping into adulthood.

The commencement ceremony introduces a flurry of activity, with all the graduates allowing their enthusiasm to take over. There may always be things you wanted to do and forgot in all the happy ruckus that accompanies this event. A baccalaureate ceremony offers you the possibility to put your thoughts in order and plan for what will follow. For instance, it is an excellent occasion to take pictures of you and your friends and family.

If you plan a speech at the event, your family can record it so that you can look back to it years down the road. Parents will also find this ceremony an excellent occasion for accompanying their sons and daughters on a new path.

During this time, you can also plan for a graduation party, along with your class, or on your own. Since the baccalaureate ceremony takes place on a weekday, there will be plenty of time to organize a proper party. Ensure that you secure a list of guests so that there are no other competing parties that could snatch them away.

While the commencement ceremony is considered the most important during this time, a baccalaureate ceremony brings something else. It allows all those involved to take a breather before getting swept away by the trials that wait ahead. It is also an excellent opportunity for a meaningful experience that graduates will remember all their lives.

Taking the time to experience pride and contentment at the end of this stage of life is essential when choosing your direction in life. This is what a baccalaureate ceremony is all about, and why it is important for graduates everywhere.