In American culture, graduating high school is often seen as an accomplishment worth celebrating. To many, it marks the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood, though it’s a bit weird when you break it down.
For starters, it usually takes place at either the school itself or a large arena, depending on the size of the school/graduating class. Regardless of where it’s taking place, the area is typically nicely decorated for the occasion. There might be banners that say, “Congratulations, class of 2016!” or something similar. Usually, the decorations are representative of the high school’s colors. The graduates don hats that have a flat, square top with a circular bottom that fits snugly around one’s head. In addition, they wear ankle-length robes that have wide sleeves and a zipper in the front. Generally, guys and girls will have different colored robes, but usually the colors are representative of the school’s colors regardless. Graduates are also required to wear nice dress clothes underneath their robes. Above the robe, students might wear a graduation bib or cord; these can be symbolic of a variety of different things, such as a student’s GPA, involvement in an organization, etc.
The atmosphere of a graduation is generally pretty positive, although it can be sad for some people as it symbolizes growing up and possibly moving to a different city, state, etc. There’s usually a lot of excited chatter before and after the ceremony. A lot of people can be seen taking pictures of their children, their friends, their families, etc.
During the actual graduation, a variety of different people speak. Usually, the high school’s principle will give a speech about the graduating class, important life lessons, keys to success, etc. Students will speak as well, generally including the valedictorian and sometimes the salutatorian; how personal or impersonal these speeches are depends entirely on the student in question. Once people are done speaking, someone, usually the principal, will call each student up to the podium, one at a time and in alphabetical order, in order for the students to receive their diplomas. Often, there will be someone taking pictures of each student as this process happens. Typically, there will be a slideshow at the end of ceremony, showcasing the graduating class’s moments throughout their senior year.
There’s a lot of different functions served in a graduation ceremony. For example, students wear essentially the same attire as a way to unify them and show they’re graduating. Also, usually the school choir sings, and this is used, in my opinion, to change up the pace (so it’s not just constant speeches) and also to further unify everyone. The reason so many different people speak at graduation is because they hold different levels of prestige (e.g. principal, valedictorian, etc.) and they represent different aspects of the community (e.g. faculty, the students themselves, etc.) and, generally, the school wants every voice/population to be heard, since it’s such an important ceremony.
This ritual is one of passage, as it fulfills all of the necessary functions. Graduation offers closure as it marks the end of high school/childhood and the beginning of adulthood (so more responsibilities). It brings the entire graduating class and their families together to celebrate, which helps promotes familiarity. Also, it helps aid people in this time of transitions and readjustment by both celebrating the past and encouraging people to embrace the future. Finally, it celebrates the bond the class has with one another.
I would say people are transformed through this ritual. For a lot of people, graduation symbolizes the very end of high school and childhood in general. It marks the beginning of a new, more independent life, and that leaves people feeling a variety of different emotions. To the community, graduation offers the hope for a brighter future; the idea of there being a bunch of new adults (for lack of better wording), with their whole lives ahead of them to make the world a better place, is very promising and optimistic.