Fun, traditional, and personalised: How graduation ceremonies happen around the world

graduation ceremonies
Rather than the end of a journey, graduation ceremonies are merely the beginning of a new one. Source: AFP

Graduation season in the UK is right around the corner, and if you’ve just graduated, congratulations! 

A graduation ceremony is arguably one of the most important milestones someone can celebrate. Why not? After all, it’s a culmination of effort, sacrifices, dedication, and most likely some hefty fees as well.

But most of all, it’s a ceremony that represents you taking your next big step in life, as you transition from a student to a working adult. 

This traditional ceremony takes place in every country around the world, but it doesn’t always occur at the same time. Some countries hold their graduation ceremonies in certain seasons, while others do it only once a year.

Let’s take a look at when they occur at some popular study abroad destinations.

graduation ceremonies

In an effort to stand out, many graduates adorn their caps with their own decorations. Source: AFP

When do graduation ceremonies take place? 

Graduation seasons vary around the world, depending on the country or university. But the general rule of thumb is this: for most countries in the northern hemisphere, graduation season is celebrated between May and June, while in the southern hemisphere, it’s usually between November and December. 

While some institutions have their own graduation schedules depending on their academic calendars, you can usually expect them around these times.

As a handy reference, we’ve broken down some popular international student countries and their graduation seasons below. 


Graduation ceremonies in the UK typically occur between July and September. 

Some institutes, like King’s College London, have up to two timeframes for graduation ceremonies, with the first being in January and the second in July. Students will then graduate in batches, even in different venues, according to their degree or school. 


For the US, graduation ceremonies are commonly held near the end of the academic year, around May or June. Unlike in the UK or some other countries, where some university students attend graduation ceremonies months after they finish their degrees, US students typically graduate just days after their classes are finished. 

Graduation ceremonies are a large-scale operation on many college campuses. Some institutes facilitate ceremonies with over 5,000 students graduating at once in a large venue like a sports stadium. 


The timeframe for graduation ceremonies at universities in Australia depends on the institute, but it’s common to hold at least two a year. 

The most common timeframe is around April to May and then September to October. Some institutes, like the University of Queensland, also hold graduation ceremonies in December, so it’s a good idea to always check your academic calendar. 


Most universities use seasons, namely spring and summer, for their graduation ceremonies. Honestly, it makes sense – no one would want to graduate in the sweltering summer heat or the harsh winter cold. 

Canada’s spring convocations are usually held in June, while fall convocations run between October and November. 


Graduation ceremonies in China usually occur between June and July, alongside large-scale career fairs in and out of university campuses. 

In 2023, China’s Ministry of Education made it mandatory for universities and colleges to invite employers to campuses and hold special career fairs for fresh graduates. It’s safe to say they have kept up the practice in 2024, even bringing in large-scale organisations in the artificial intelligence industry. 

graduation ceremonies

Students are walking out during graduation ceremonies as part of a coordinated effort to demand that higher education institutions divest from companies and endowments with ties to Israel. Source: AFP

Graduation ceremonies are the perfect time to make a statement

To most, a graduation ceremony is a solemn, formal occasion that marks the end of their academic journey. But to some, it’s a way to go out with a bang. 

In modern times, many universities are now holding graduation ceremonies where students can showcase their creativity and individuality. Why not? After all, not every student has the chance to walk onstage during their academic life, so a graduation ceremony is the perfect opportunity to make a statement.

Some even use the opportunity to protest.

News outlets are calling graduation ceremonies the latest battleground for Gaza protests – graduates this year are walking on stage to collect their degrees while donning Palestinian flags and keffiyehs, or holding up signs to protest Israel’s war on Gaza. In retaliation, some even use the opportunity to act as counterprotesters, carrying Israeli flags and displaying pro-Israel messages.

Due to this, universities are taking action due to safety risks and security concerns. While some still proceed with ceremonies, other institutes have implemented rules and security measures, and even a handful have cancelled graduation ceremonies altogether.  

This shows that a graduation ceremony is not merely a celebration of your laurels, but it can provide the opportunity to do something that will be remembered not just by you, but by your friends and family for life. 

Take a look at some of these incredible graduation ceremonies that have gained traction over the years. 

Interesting graduation ceremonies from around the world 


Japan has always treated graduations as a solemn coming-of-age ceremony, but in recent years, some universities have made headlines for their creative ceremonies.  

Some institutions, like the University of Kyoto, Kanazawa College of Art, and Kyoto City University, allow graduating students to wear any costume they want, as long as it’s appropriate. As this Redditor says, “It’s their last chance for some carefree silliness before embarking on their lives as a corporate salaryman.” 

Cue students showing up in highly elaborate costumes, such as cosplays from anime and manga, cardboard Thomas the Trains, blow-up dinosaur suits, and even an impersonator of the acclaimed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki.

Most students, however, still stick to either traditional or modern attire for their graduation outfits. Some wear kimono or hakama, or even Western-style suits and dresses. 


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Graduation ceremonies in China have always been sacred celebrations, with students and their families treating them as an honourable occasion. For years, graduates have worn the Western standardised combinations of a robe, sash, mortarboard cap, and tassel, but things have changed recently. 

In 2024, a new trend took over many universities in China, with many students redesigning and reimagining their graduation attire. Both local and international students alike received their degrees wearing hanfu and qipao-inspired designs, incorporating Mamian skirts, hairpins, embroidered collars and even ornamental pieces in their hair and outfits to embrace their culture and tradition. Some students even match their graduation gowns with oil paper umbrellas and fans.

Yunjian – traditional shoulder garments mainly worn during the Ming and Qing dynasties – was particularly popular. Stores on the e-commerce platform Taobao offer a plethora of yunjian designs, even designing a few for Zhejiang University graduates – there was pink yunjian for liberal arts graduates, grey for science graduates, and yellow for graduates in engineering majors.

In Finland, you are given a top hat and sword when you get a PhD diploma.
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In Finland graduation ceremonies, you’re given a top hat and a sword if you’ve completed your PhD. These ceremonies are more exclusive and are held every couple of years only – doctoral students will be presented with their PhD hat, PhD sword, and graduation certificate. This takes defending your thesis to the next level.

The colour of the hat may vary depending on the specific degree. A Doctor of Medicine, for example, is associated with a green hat, whilst a Doctor of Fine Arts with a dark blue hat. It also usually displays the university emblem attached to a velvet ribbon.

What’s most interesting about these graduation ceremonies is actually the ceremony on the day before. PhD graduates must attend a traditional sword-whetting ceremony with the sword they’ll be presented with the next day. During this ceremony, graduates must sharpen the sword on a hand-turned grindstone until it is deemed suitable.


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Perhaps where the term “to rest one’s laurels” originates from. Graduation ceremonies in Italy have thousands of students wearing laurels – flower wreath crowns (la corona di alloro) sold by florists all over town. Graduates will wear the wreath throughout the ceremony and for the rest of the day in celebration of their achievements.

A more messy graduation tradition in Italy involves “trashing”, which is also popular in places like Oxford in the UK and Argentina. Friends and family of the graduating students will cover them in raw eggs, cream, alcohol, flour, sauces and even things like confetti and fish heads. 

Trashing has become a distinct part of graduation ceremonies that even universities like Oxford had to pass ordinances to regulate it. All substances – including confetti – have to be biodegradable, trashing has to be done away from main roads, and it absolutely has to be cleared up to avoid a fine. 


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Graduation ceremonies in Hawaii are an extremely colourful affair. Family and friends will present the happy graduate with a Hawaiian lei, which is a bright flower garland. In fact, leis at graduation ceremonies are just as traditional as the cap and gown! To Hawaiians, it’s a good omen to wear a lei as they graduate, as it represents carrying success and good fortune for future endeavours. 

It’s customary for graduates to then walk across the stage and receive their degree while wearing these garlands. Some of them end up almost swimming in lei, with their faces barely being able to peek out among the flowers and ribbons, which makes for quite an amusing sight. Some leis are even made out of paper money, candies, seashells and even coins.

Traditionally, leis are given to graduates to celebrate their achievements, but it’s also common for graduates to return the favour. Leis are given out by graduates to those who helped them with their journey, such as family, friends, teachers and classmates as acknowledgement of their valuable support.