Cognitive Daily

When our son Jim “graduated” from preschool, there was a very formal ceremony, complete with little caps and gowns. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), we had already planned a trip to Disneyworld for the same dates. Forced to choose between Disney and sitting through a scholarly ritual, for some reason little Jim chose the former. He didn’t face a similar choice at the end of elementary school — we all dutifully attended — and the whole family will also attend his graduation from middle school at the end of the month.

I attended preschool as a child, but I don’t recall such a ceremony when I advanced to kindergarten. Indeed, I don’t even remember an elementary or middle-school graduation. The first graduation ceremony I participated in was high school, and the last was college (even though I’ve got two graduate degrees). My mom didn’t attend my college graduation 2,000 miles away from my hometown, preferring to spend the money travelling with me to Europe later that summer. “High school is the ceremony that really matters to parents,” she told me at the time.

So that got us to wondering: how important are these various graduation ceremonies to Cognitive Daily readers? How far out of their way will they go? And are there systematic differences as to who attends what ceremony? Last week’s survey sought to answer those questions. We asked readers whether they would attend ceremonies in the same city, travelling three hours, and travelling overnight. We also asked whose ceremonies they’d attend: their own, their children’s, or their niece / nephews. Here are the results (click on the image for a larger version):


As you might expect, readers are most likely to attend their own children’s graduation ceremonies, regardless of the school level. Pre-, elementary-, and middle-school ceremonies get dramatically less respect than high school, college, and graduate school. However, unlike my mom, our readers are more likely to attend college graduation ceremonies than high school ceremonies. And as the ceremonies get farther away, attendance decreases. Few people are willing to travel even 3 hours for siblings’ or nieces’/nephews’ pre-high-school graduation ceremonies. After middle school, parents, however, are equally likely to travel to see their children’s ceremonies as they are to witness them in their home towns.

We also asked our readers whether they live in a rural, urban, or suburban area. This had no relationship to their likelihood of attending graduation ceremonies.

Finally, we asked what part of the world respondents lived in. Interestingly, this did bear some relationship to their willingness to attend graduation ceremonies. Take a look at this chart of willingness to attend ceremonies requiring an overnight trip:


Overall, U.S. parents were significantly more likely to travel overnight to attend their children’s graduation ceremonies than parents in the rest of the world. This result also held true in particular for the specific cases of high school and college / university. But perhaps this result doesn’t reflect a non-U.S. aversion to graduation ceremonies, but to travel. If that were the case, we would see a different result when graduation ceremonies were in the same city and travel was not required. Here’s a chart showing those results:


Just as before, even when the ceremony is in the same city, non-U.S. parents are significantly less likely to attend their children’s graduation ceremonies. This result also held true in particular for the specific cases of pre school, college / university, and graduate school. Can you offer any explanation for this pattern? Do you have any other observations about graduation ceremonies? Let us know in the comments.


  1. #1 Josh
    May 12, 2006

    As someone who went to school both in the US and elsewhere, I would say the percentages are lower outside the US because graduation (with the exception of college graduation) is a non-event most places. The US culture plays up the graduation ceremony much more than other cultures do, particularly high school graduation. It’s not a question of aversion to travel (or aversion to relatives, for that matter) – it’s just that graduation (with the hats, ceremony, Pomp and Circumstance, etc) is a US cultural phenomenon not necessarily mirrored elsewhere.

    Maybe weddings would be a better case study, as they are more universal?

  2. #2 Skrud
    May 12, 2006

    I wonder how respondents in Canada compare to the U.S. / World tendencies. As far as I know, we place similar cultural signficance on graduation ceremonies as Americans do. At least we have the hats, ceremony and Pomp and Circumstance… 🙂

  3. #3 Dave Munger
    May 12, 2006

    Okay, Skrud, I’ve prepared graphs with Canada broken out separately:




    Although we only have 14 respondents from Canada, the trend seems more like the rest of the world than the U.S.

  4. #4 coturnix
    May 12, 2006

    That is correct. Back in Yugoslavia, once you are done with all the exams (and that can be a year or two after you finished with attending lectures – a strange system: there are no quizzes or exams during the time one takes a class; then, once you are ready you sign up for the exam and take it then), they mail you your diploma. This can happen at any time of the year. There is no such thing as a particular time of year for graduation, or a ceremony.

    I will try to avoid appearing at my own PhD ceremony, as I find the whole costume ball disgusting.

  5. #5 Eric Irvine
    May 12, 2006

    It probably has something to do with americans idolizing personal achievement over the welfare of others; at least compared to Eastern Countries where things are more community oriented.

    This is also reflected in the amount of athletes, beauty queens, and celebrities that the United States has – isn’t it more than anywhere else? An echo of manifest destiny? Something about giving people worth based on supposed merit?

    I would say the answer is definitely cultural.

  6. #6 Owen Jones
    May 12, 2006

    I agree with the first poster, Josh, that outside of the US there isn’t such a culture of graduation ceremonies. Here in England we don’t really have any graduation ceremonies. except maybe for university. I’m at Cambridge university and you get up to two tickets to the graduation ceremony after your undergraduate degree. This caused a problem when my girlfriend’s grandparents, who are American, assumed that they could attend her graduation and made plans to visit England at that time.

  7. #7 Joe
    May 12, 2006


  8. #8 Joe
    May 12, 2006

    What Crap! Why are we talking about this? Graduation ceremonies are meaningless. Live, learn what you can, accomplish what you will, die when it’s time. that’s your ceremony.

  9. #9 Dave Munger
    May 14, 2006

    “Why are we talking about this? Graduation ceremonies are meaningless.”

    We are talking about it to find out how many people agree with you. If you’re unhappy with the results and think too many people are unduly emphasizing graduation ceremonies, then you’ll know the size of the crusade you’ll need to embark upon to change people’s minds.

  10. #10 U****ted State of America
    May 15, 2006

    ” I’m at Cambridge university and you get up to two tickets to the graduation ceremony after your undergraduate degree.”

    That’s ‘cos it’s in the poky Senate House.

    Mind you, the Cambridge Graduation ceremony is something to see. It’s really bizarre.

    I changed the commenter name on this post. Please try to keep your handles within the bounds of good taste, since they do show up on the front page of the blog — DM

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