Graduation ceremonies: from jeans to evening dress

How the proposition and the organisation of graduation ceremonies has changed since the early years of FHWS

 © Rainer Wehner

Students used to celebrate their graduation at self-organised parties – in the cellar next door or at vineyards. Today, graduation ceremonies are organised by the FHWS faculties. Instead of party cellars, a waltz with the Dean is on the agenda, for example. The aim: to offer the students a fitting graduation.

Informal graduation parties in the 80s and 90s

The first graduation parties took place a few years after the founding of FHWS in 1971. When the faculties did not offer a graduation celebration, the students organised their own parties. A computer science graduate from the 1982 summer semester remembers: “There was no official graduation ceremony, we collected the certificate from the Department of Student Affairs. We organised a private party and the final degree was celebrated in jeans in a party cellar.” For a plastics engineering graduate, the graduation party took place in the summer of 1992 at a vineyard. The students arranged a party which everyone brought something to. “It was an informal celebration with no speeches, the professors weren’t there.”

A group of computer science students organised something unusual: they celebrated their graduation festively in the summer of 1988 on a passenger ship. Tickets were sold in advance. All graduates and their companions were on board. The guests included a number of professors, a former student recounts. “A band played on the ship, speeches were held and it was a very classy setting for a graduation party.” This shows that it was important to graduates to provide a celebratory setting for the end of their studies even without offerings from FHWS.  

Individual ceremonies for separate faculties

Today, each faculty has its own concept for seeing off its students. The professors in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering have a barbecue for their graduates. The Trade Journalism and Corporate Communications master’s programme integrated the graduation ceremony into the faculty’s summer party in 2019 and would like to repeat this. The Faculty of Visual Design combines the official send-off for its graduates with the “Bergwerk” semester showcase. The Master International Business degree programme sends off its graduates and welcomes the new students at the same time at Steinburg castle. But not all degree programmes celebrate graduation. The Industrial Mathematics degree programme, which does not have a celebration to date, would therefore like to integrate this into the Faculty of Applied Natural Sciences and Humanities summer party. The Specialised Translation degree programme does not have a celebration because there is insufficient interest from their graduates.

From Mensa to the Mercure Hotel

In the Faculty of Business and Engineering, bachelor’s and master's graduates celebrate the end of their studies together at the Schweinfurt Mercure Hotel. After the official part, there is the party. Dean Professor Dr. Peter Meyer smiles: “By now, there is a tradition that – as soon as the band begins to play – the Dean first dances an opening waltz. My wife and I look forward to it every year and think that it’s great when the other people present then join in.” The concept has changed over time. Dean Meyer recounts that the celebration took place at the main auditorium in Schweinfurt before his tenure. Today’s concept was developed owing to dwindling numbers of participants.

Quote Dean Prof. Dr. Peter Braun: "By now, there is a tradition that – as soon as the band begins to play – the Dean first dances an opening waltz."

Planning partially in student hands

In earlier times, the organisation of graduation parties was often in students’ hands – today, however, it is done by the faculties' dean's offices. Students are involved and their input expressly welcomed for some celebrations. The Faculty of Visual Design puts together the “Bergwerk team” of students every semester. Together with the faculty management, they organise the showcase including the send-off. Does involving students in the planning really offer benefits? Some faculties do the organisation without student participation. “I can imagine that more student ideas will be integrated into the design and procedure in the future,” says Dean Meyer. “Whether this will result in a stronger connection to FHWS is impossible to gauge. In my experience, the intensity of the connection depends on the individual students.” If students want to get involved, in the form of speeches for example, this is taken into consideration according to Professor Dr. Wehner.

The introduction of gowns – reversal of the protests of ‘68?

“At the last two academic ceremonies for the awarding of certificates for the BWL degree programme, the students asked to wear robes,” Dean Professor Dr. Axel Bialek recounts. The graduates on the Brand and Media Management master’s programme also wear robes – from which the protests of 1968 once consciously distanced themselves. Do the students consider the garb to be a symbol of an old hierarchical university?
The protests of ‘68 campaigned against the structures of such universities. At that time, two students from Hamburg made headlines with the banner “Under the gowns – The musty odour of 1000 years”. The ‘68 uprising brought about a complete reversal of the student structures of the time. Higher education institutions were democratised and were opened to the lower social classes as well. Gowns largely vanished as a result. Today, however, they have become popular again. “I think that it is an expression of changing values and is therefore a generational topic,” is Dean Axel Bialek’s opinion on the students’ desire for gowns. “I associate that with an increase in value being placed on forms and conventions again.” According to Dean Meyer, the Faculty of Business and Engineering deliberately foregoes gowns.

Graduates of the Faculty of Business and Engineering
The business administration students celebrate every year at their graduation ceremony. (© Simone Friese)

Strengthening attachment to FHWS

The faculties’ intention behind the graduation ceremonies is to strengthen students’ attachment to FHWS. The graduates should be seen off with dignity. “We have taught these students for years,” says Dean Meyer. “I think it is a shame when people are simply sent away at the end of their studies with an attitude of ‘here’s your certificate, bye’”. The faculties want to give graduates opportunities, through graduation ceremonies, to make contacts and expand networks. Some faculties invite alumni in order to allow for reunions and networking. The connection between FHWS and the economy should also be strengthened as a result.

Particularly high-performing students are honoured with prizes from the Faculty of Business and Engineering.
Particularly high-performing students are honoured with prizes from the Faculty of Business and Engineering. (© Simone Friese)
-	Foto 3 (c Simone Friese): In the Faculty of Business and Engineering, graduates celebrate the end of their studies together at the Schweinfurt Mercure Hotel.
In the Faculty of Business and Engineering, graduates celebrate the end of their studies together at the Schweinfurt Mercure Hotel. (© Simone Friese)

Graduates as spokespeople

Graduates should also act as ambassadors for FHWS – particularly after the celebration. They continue to represent FHWS by making positive comments and talking positively about their experiences. If graduates are interested, they can invite students to do internships in companies or make themselves available for school visits through a database.

Different celebrations, same goal

The celebrations organised by students in the early years of FHWS show that the students commemorated academic graduation. They celebrated the end of their studies even when FHWS did not offer a setting for this. Today, the faculties’ desire to give graduates a celebratory send-off is added to this. The parties organised by students in the early years of FHWS have thus turned into festive celebrations. But, whether purely in student hands or through FHWS offerings, there was and is always a clear goal: to honour achievements.

Profilfoto Lea Reuter

An article by
Lea Reuter