Unusual Graduation Traditions

The Wackiest Graduation Traditions from Around the World

22nd November, 2018

Churchill Gowns Director of Operations, Ruth Nicholls, takes you through some of the more unusual graduation traditions practised around the world today

Most people have an image in their mind of what a graduation ceremony in the UK looks like. OK the hats are a little odd, and the blingy sceptre thing - what’s that about? But most graduation ceremonies follow a pretty standard format. A few countries and institutions, however, have some ceremonial traditions that are seriously out there…

Doctoral Swords in Finland

If you thought a gown, hood and mortarboard were inconvenient, try wearing the sword and hat required for doctoral graduates in Finland! The sword is a ‘civilian sword’ and is worn on the right hand side of the belt in a scabbard. The hat is a tall, cylindrical hat with a flat brim and a velvet ribbon around it, bearing the university emblem in gold. Usually the hat is black, however some faculties may use alternative colours. Traditionally doctoral students are expected to purchase their own sword and hat, as the hats are made to measure and the sword is engraved with the student’s name and the university emblem. I’ve even heard of academics in the UK, who hold PhDs from Finland, have had to get permission from the council to wear their full academic dress and carry a sword at UK graduation ceremonies! I imagine they’re a nightmare to get through customs...

And Finland aren’t the only country using stylised weapons in their graduation ceremonies. In Poland and the Ukraine, doctoral students carry a stylised ‘mace’ (or baton) called a Bulawa, to signify their status.

Holding a Finger at the University of Cambridge

The majority of graduations at the University of Cambridge take place in the beautiful Senate House. Graduates line up and are ‘presented’ for their degrees to the Vice Chancellor or Master of their College by the person holding the position of ‘Praelector’. The presentation would traditionally have involved the Praelector holding the graduate by their hand and reciting some Latin, however with the number of graduates increasing in recent years, this practise has had to be modified to speed up the ceremonies.

Now, rather than presenting graduates one at a time, the Praelector presents them in groups of four. Since he doesn’t have four hands, the graduating students now have to each just take a finger instead! It’s a pretty amusing and unusual sight: a cluster of students in gowns, each holding one of the Praelector’s fingers while he speaks in Latin!

Fancy Dress in Japan

Perhaps one of the most famous graduation traditions is the annual fancy dress Kanazawa College of Art in Japan, so much so that the press are usually in attendance to capture the big day. As you might expect from an art college located in the spiritual home of cosplay, the students go all out. There’s not a bin bag and broomstick in sight! But if you think it must be one big party, think again - students are still expected to process solemnly across the stage to receive their degrees, even whilst wearing an unwieldy costume.


In lots of countries a graduation ‘trashing’ is commonplace. In Italy and Argentina it’s traditionally it’s the family of the graduate who cover them in cream, alcohol, tomato sauce and anything else truly revolting! We’re glad we don’t hire graduation robes to students at those ceremonies... Think of the dry cleaning bill!

In Oxford students who have completed their exams are ‘trashed’ by their friends who, again, get creative to make the experience as gruesome as possible. I’ve even heard of fish heads being dumped over a student’s head! Who wants to start their post-exam celebrations with hair that reeks of fish?? In recent years Oxford University have staged a crack down on trashings as they are (understandably) concerned about the environmental impact, waste and cleaning up. Maybe this is a graduation tradition that, like the fish heads, belongs in the bin!