Graduation as a Transitional Experience and a Rite of Passage

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Throughout life, human beings often experience shifts and changes in their identity and their surrounding environment. Whether they are religious or secular, they are still transitional moments in one’s life that are celebrated by rituals that take us to the next step in our lives and shape who we are as people. We tend to mark these changes in our identities through a concept known as rites of passage, which is a ceremony or event that marks a significant change in one’s life. This term was developed in 1908 by a man named Arnold Van Gennep (Robbins et al. 2016, 61), and was also expanded on by Victor Turner in the later 1900’s (McGarry 2016).

Considering my past, I recognize that I have encountered many life-changing events that have had an impact on my identity, whether it was involving my religion, culture, or other personal events such as developing from a child to a woman. However, a rite of passage that I recall being the most impactful in my life would be recently graduating from high school and moving on with the rest of my life. Graduating from high school has significantly impacted my life and changed my identity, through ways such as moving on from high school onto bigger and better opportunities, accomplishing a significant milestone, developing independence and a sense of responsibility, and graduating also lead to another significant event in my life which was the chance to attend university. Graduation is looked upon as an important accomplishment that differentiates you from the rest of high school students because with graduation comes with an important certificate known as a diploma. After graduating from high school, it serves as a reminder of all the years of hard work put into high school and being able to overcome and accomplish it. Graduation is one of the most significant steps in transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. Moreover, when searching for a job after high school, having a diploma is typically necessary as employers tend to seek for people with higher education, and higher salaries are also given to people with a high school diploma versus those who do not have one. Graduation is also mandatory to be able to attend post-secondary in the future, as institutions look for a high school diploma along with exceptional marks.

Regarding a change in status, myself and my peers find that graduating high school not only transforms our status but also gives us a reputation of being accomplished, privileged, appearing as smart individuals, and also being recognized as mature adults, whether or not any of those are actually relevant to who we are because of how highly looked upon receiving an education is. Not only that, but fellow family members, close relatives, family friends, and more, often congratulate me for finishing high school and graduating, as in this generation is it more important than compared to the past. Years ago, students could drop out of high school and still become successful in their life without having a high education, but now more than ever jobs have become highly competitive meaning that education is now a requirement if you ever want to seek a high paying job after high school.

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As stated before, a rite of passage is a significant event, ceremony, or ritual that celebrates a change in one’s life, whether it is secular or sacred. These changes in a person’s life could be regarding their role in society, their status, or change in their identity (Robbins et al. 2016, 61). Additionally, a rite of passage occurs in three stages which are separation, liminality, and reincorporation (Van Gennep 2011, 10-11). The first stage of separation is when an individual isolates themselves from their society in order to transition into their new identity (McGarry 2016). The second stage which is liminality, also known as the transitional stage, is the stage in which an individual is in between their identities, and not fully one or the either yet (McGarry 2016). The individual still possesses past qualities of their old identity, while developing qualities of their new identity. The final stage, which is reincorporation, is the stage in which an individual is fully reintegrated as a new identity and person into their society (McGarry 2016).

Looking at graduation as a rite of passage, it can be seen that it fits the three stages of a rite of passage when transitioning into a new identity. The first stage of separation is seen in graduation as senior students are socially separated from their society which is high school as they are preparing for graduation through grad rehearsals, exams, and leaving their friends, teachers, and classmates that they have grown up with their whole lives. These students are also isolating from other students in high school as they are heading onto different paths than students younger than them in other grades. While still in high school preparing for graduation and for plans after school, students face the second stage which is the transition, as they are now transitioning and expected to be learning about responsibilities of the real world when preparing for adulthood (Fasick 1998, 1), while still being a high school student. During this stage is when the students complete the graduation ceremony along with receiving their diplomas, awards, and say their goodbyes to their childhood. This displays that the students are in between identities, and are preparing to fully transition into their new identity, while still possessing their past identity. The last stage, known as reincorporation, is observed in this rite of passage when the students have already fulfilled their graduation ceremony and are now reincorporated into the real world of adulthood after high school (Fasick 1998, 1). Students are now accountable for choosing their future, finding a job, paying their duties, and are responsible for their role in society and what they contribute to it as a new adult because they are not considered a child in society anymore. This is the next step where they are faced with new challenges in their lives, such as continuing onto the next stage of education or work, meeting new people such as friends and teachers, and will also come across new opportunities and expectations.

When looking at the celebration of graduation and how it is celebrated around the world, it can be seen there are similarities and differences in other cultures and countries with how the ceremony of graduation is celebrated. Identically, Denmark celebrates their student’s accomplishment of graduation by wearing graduation caps and gowns, as well as having a final ceremony and receiving diplomas (Warburg 2009, 33). The culture of Denmark takes graduation very seriously, as much as our culture does, if not more. Although, Denmark differentiates from our culture regarding graduation, as the beginning of the three stages of this rite of passage does not start until their last day of class (Warburg 2009, 33), whereas our culture begins the three stages long before while we are preparing for graduation. The soon-to-be graduates enter the stage of separation on their last day of classes from their other younger classmates in high school in younger grades. The students are seen running around the school, interrupting classes, and throwing sweets out the window during the lunch break to prepare for their celebration (Warburg 2009, 33). After this, the students must prepare for their final examinations in order to be given the white cap that announces their next step in their process of transitioning into their new identity.

After they complete their final examination, they have completed the first stage of separation (Warburg 2009, 33). Although they may have passed their exams that they are no longer studying for, they still have not yet technically graduated, therefore this is when they enter the liminality stage as they are still in between identities. On the day of the graduation ceremony, all of the schools in Denmark have their ceremony on the same day in June. The females must wear a white dress with a red jacket, and the males must wear a white or blue shirt with trousers and a blue blazer (Warburg 2009, 33). All of their family members gather on benches in the hallway, while the soon-to-be graduates are placed on benches at the front. All students wear the traditional cap with a white crown on top while the ceremony takes place, which involves speeches, awards, and the distribution of diplomas (Warburg 2009, 33). After the ceremony has taken place, the graduates then reach the third and final phase which is reincorporation where they all ride on the back of trucks together to drink alcohol, sing, yell, and visit each of the graduate’s homes to receive gifts from their parents in celebration of their accomplishment of graduating (Warburg 2009, 33). This celebration serves the purpose of recognition of the hard work of the graduate students as well as a final farewell to their friends, family, and town as they are reincorporated into a new society (Warburg 2009, 33). All in all, graduation is a sacramental and significant tradition that celebrates the transition from childhood to adulthood and is a meaningful rite of passage that marks changes in identities that my age group experiences.

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