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How can I acknowledge achievements when graduation ceremonies are cancelled?

By Maren Voss, USU Professional Practice Extension Assistant Professor



Graduations are a time of transition and change, and might even be considered a societal rite of passage. Rites of passage are helpful in marking and managing times of transition.  The ambiguity in US society around adulthood can make it hard to manage and mark these periods of transition without some sort of ceremony.  A societal recognition of the graduation ceremony and any graduation parties that follow help mark this time of change.  

So where does that leave us in the era of social distancing?  What do we do when we aren’t allowed to hold graduation parties and ceremonies are being cancelled?  Giving up the rite of passage can contribute to a further breakdown in managing the transition from youth to adult.  But wise parents and family members can fill the void by taking the right steps of acknowledgement.  If societal shut-down means the graduation ceremony is cancelled, then a small-scale family event might help.  Here are some practical ideas for smoothing out the chaos of a graduation season gone awry.

  1. Look for ways to celebrate the transition. Hold a virtual graduation party, rent the cap and gown and take pictures,     and send out the graduation cards.
  2. Engage your social circle. Societal transitions are meant to be enacted on a societal level—so use virtual technology, email, Facebook, or other venues to engage a larger social circle during this time of social distancing.
  3. Recognize that emotions can be intense during times of change. This awareness will help the family name the emotions and identify their sources—particularly when frustration flares over missed opportunities.
  4. Identify the source of tensions. With altered schedules and shifting life demands, do some detective work to get to the origin of the negative emotion.
  5. Find a way to mark the life change. The normal transitions to a new job, to a dorm room, or to other growth scenarios may not be occurring.  So look for alternatives that show you recognize the progression toward adulthood.  This might include new freedoms, a small gift, or naming a new role in the family.
  6. Recognize that ritual has a purpose. Ritual takes the complex and simplifies it to an easy to enact pattern.  Find a new ritual that will mark the occasion of launching into adulthood and give it the importance it deserves.

The main point to consider is that graduation is a time of transitions.  This will be particularly true as graduation rituals are upended.  Work pro-actively as a family to manage the potential conflicts with understanding and resilience.  The graduate is growing up and moving onto a new state of life.  With some family ritual recognition, families can support growing together at the same time.


  • Blumenkrantz DG, Goldstein MB. Seeing College as a Rite of Passage: What Might Be Possible. New Directions for Higher Education. 2014;2014(166):85-94.
  • Stephenson B. RITUAL CRITICISM OF A CONTEMPORARY RITE OF PASSAGE. Journal of Ritual Studies. 2003;17(1):32-41.