T. Liu – Week Three – Description of a Ritual

The ritual I would like to talk about is a graduation ceremony I attended. It was a graduation ceremony at one of the universities in China. The ritual was held in the auditorium of the university, where big events such as conventions, theatrical shows are held. The auditorium was a large venue that can accommodate over 1000 people. There were two floors, the grand hall and the balcony floor around three sides, where parents of the students were seated. At the front of the auditorium was a large stage with red curtains opened at two sides. On the stage, there were about 30 empty chairs. The stage was set against a large screen in the middle, showing a picture of the entrance of the university and the university motto. On top of the stage there was a red banner with the words “Sun Yat-sen University 2015 Graduation and Degree Award Ceremony”. In front of the stage, students were seated. They all dressed in baccalaureate gowns – black robes with red collars, and trencher caps. The ritual starts with an announcement asking students to stand up and welcome the Officiating professors. Then the school anthem started to play, 30 professors walking in line into the auditorium, all dressed in red gowns. At the head of the line was the principal of the university, holding a mace. The guest professors walked onto the stage and sat down on the chairs. All students were standing still, looking at the professors while they walked. The university anthem was playing until all the professors were seated. The auditorium was full of a solemn atmosphere. After an introduction of the guests, all attendees stood up again and began to sing the national anthem together. Then the principle was invited to make a speech. After the speech all students were asked to go on the stage one by one. The principle passed the graduation certificate to every student and shook every student’s hand. Some students get the chance to hug the principle. The ceremony was then followed by speeches given by guest professors. All these speeches expressed the professors’ congratulation to the students and their wishes and expectations to them. The speeches were inspiring in the sense that they all aimed to encourage students’ success and contribution to the wider community when they leave the school and enter the society. The ceremony ended with appreciation to student’s family members sitting on the balcony.

The ceremony was a ritual that marks the graduation of students from school which means they are no longer students, but a independent adult. It is an official end of studentship and is a sign of new responsibilities entitled to the participants. Thus it can be categorized into Rites of Passage. The things occurs at the ritual are symbolic. The caps, gowns of the students are especially designed and are traditionally symbolic of the scholarly status of education and knowledge. Color of the collars, gowns represents different level of degree- bachelor, master or doctor. The university anthem is an expression of the university’s spirit, characteristics, and culture. Playing the university anthem at the start of the ceremony marked the beginning of the ritual. The academic mace origins from the medieval times when they were signs of professionals and officials. It was used in the ritual here as a symbol of successful completion of study and ready to move on to the next level.

4 thoughts on “T. Liu – Week Three – Description of a Ritual

  1. This ritual is one that establishes status relationships much more strongly than graduations in the United States, which generally have greater participation of speakers from student council and/or the top performing students at the given university. The speaker is free to tell some jokes as well as encourage students to be serious about their future- this is especially true with invited celebrities, both local or national. Perhaps this has to do with the general collectivist vs. individualist contrast between the East and the West, but this could very well be a generalization as this was just one school in China. Additionally, the gowns at graduations in America tend to be divided along gender lines as opposed to professional lines, and the way we choose to distinguish ourselves in a given society indicates the weight given to said distinction. In the end, though, both ceremonies honor the professors and staff of the university for the work they do and they build solidarity for an intellectual community that strives to carry the mantel of progress in the world. In effect, this could be perceived as a rite of intensification as well as a rite of passage and a ritual which reinforces status relationships in the university.

  2. I see a lot of similarities and some differences between graduating in China versus graduating in America. It seems the general set up with the principal and professors being in attendance, robes to signify different levels of education, and speeches by professors. The carrying of the mace was different, something I have never heard of in an American school. We also have cords which people wear to symbolize students accomplishments and there is usually a big guest speaker at some graduations. Graduations in general I would say are rites of passage. You are passing on to the next phase of your life, the real world. You are also going into a new world of more responsibility. It is also a rite of intensification; it intensifies the status relationship that a graduate has. I think you could also say playing the national anthem is another rite of intensification, it intensifies their pride in their country.

  3. This was interesting to read, I always wondered what graduation ceremonies were like in other countries. I only have experience with High School graduations, so college graduations may differ here in the United States. Regardless, here in the United States graduation ceremonies tend to be jovial celebrations of the students’ accomplishments. The valedictorian will give a speech to their fellow students about determination and the bright future. The focus is on the students and to celebrate them. From your experience, while it may be unique and not indicative of all of China, seems to be more focused on the seriousness of the event. This rite of passage is something to be respected and honored. Speaking on graduation ceremonies in general, they follow Van Gennep’s stages almost perfectly. The students don “costumes” in the essence of the graduation gowns. They separate the students from the rest of the student body as they are moving on and reintegrate them into society as adults and working citizens.

  4. It’s very interesting to get a perspective on graduation in a country that isn’t the United States. As a student that has already walked and been to multiple ceremonies, it’s easy to notice the key similarities and differences for graduations taking place in China versus the United States. Graduation in both of these countries follows the Rites of Passage ritual, because it’s a transcendence from student to adult. There is a lot of emphasis placed on the change in each individual from the start of there college career to the end of it. It seems like the event is taken much more seriously in China, because a lot of people in this country skip graduation or give little attention to it. It’s also common in the U.S. for the professors and valedictorians to speak at graduation. Like your graduation we also use different colors for caps and gowns, which refer to the status of graduates. Chords are used in the US for graduations and they are popular because they help distinguish different accomplishments from each student, which could be anything from having a high gpa to being in the national honor society. It seems that most things about our graduations are similar, and the most important part about them its the rites of passage, our transcendence into adulthood.

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