Graduation Rites in the Philippines

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Graduation picture.

Graduation (Filipino: Pagtatapos) is the award or acceptance of an academic degree or diploma <ref name="test1">Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. (accessed March 17, 2008).</ref>. For Filipinos, the term “graduation” usually refers to the graduation ceremonies undergone by graduates who have finished a level of education. Some view a person as having truly graduated only if they have “marched” (Filipino: nagmartsa) onstage to accept their diploma during the graduation ceremonies. Thus, graduation may be also considered a coming-of-age ritual for young Filipinos.

Graduation ceremonies are held at the end of March or, in some cases, the beginning of April of every year.



Filipino take part in a graduation ceremony every time they complete an educational level. These ceremonies are usually held for graduation from kindergarten, elementary school, high school, vocational school or college, and graduate school.


In past decades, elementary school and high school graduates usually wore white: white dresses for girls and white polo shirts and black pants for boys. The same went for kindergarten “graduates” except that girls usually wore identical dresses in a style and color agreed upon by the parents. Recent trends call for togas and mortarboards as standard graduation attire. The Department of Education also recently called for austerity measures, prohibiting extravagant spending and requiring students to wear only their school uniforms under their togas.

Graduates of vocational schools and colleges usually wear togas and mortarboards or caps. These are usually black, except for those colleges and universities who have togas made in the school colors. Underneath, the graduates wear formal clothes which may range from “Sunday best” to party attire.

Those who finish post-graduate studies usually wear slightly different togas from those who finish undergraduate degrees. They also wear hoods banded with the color associated with their particular post-graduate course.

All graduates usually wear corsages pinned on the left lapel or left breast of their clothing.

Baccalaureate Mass

High school graduation ceremonies usually have a baccalaureate mass before the actual graduation ceremonies begin. Elementary school and college/post-graduate school graduations may or may not have baccalaureate masses.

Universities and colleges usually celebrate the baccalaureate mass and baccalaureate ceremonies on a separate day, usually the day before the graduation ceremonies. On this day, the awards for extra-curricular and co-curricular activities are given out, leaving only the major academic awards to be given on the graduation day itself.


The giving of awards for extra-curricular, co-curricular and academic activities are not the same throughout the country. Schools may give out all the awards on graduation day itself, or may do so on a separate day before the graduation ceremonies.

Schools with a small student population usually opt to give out all awards on graduation day itself. However, bigger schools may give out lesser awards on the day before, which is called Recognition Day or Baccalaureate Day. These awards include those for extra-curricular and co-curricular activities like Athlete of the Year and Dancer of the Year, as well as “good conduct” awards such as "Most Behaved" and "Most Neat and Clean". The number and name of the awards may vary from school to school, depending on whom the teachers wish to honor.

The major academic awards given out on graduation day for elementary and high school are the awards for valedictorian, salutatorian and honorable mention. Many schools give awards to their top five graduates as follows: valedictorian, salutatorian, and first, second and third honorable mentions. The other awards are usually the Leadership Award and the awards for those who topped the different subjects. The latter are usually referred to as the “Bests”, since they start with the words “Best in...” such as, for example, “Best in Math”.

College and post-graduate schools usually award the following awards: summa cum laude (with highest honors), magna cum laude (with high honors), and cum laude (with honors). Unlike the awards given in elementary and high schools which depend on class ranking, undergraduate and post-graduate awards are given based on grade point averages, so that there may be more than one graduate with the same award, or in many cases, none at all.

Awards are usually given in the form of ribbons on which are printed the name of the award, or medals with the name of the award engraved on the back, as well as certificates.


Although ceremonies vary from school to school, certain basic elements are usually the same. A typical graduation ceremony starts with the processional, which in some cases consists of the graduating class and their parents who formally walk side by side into the venue for the ceremony. Some schools have the students leave their parents at their designated seats. Boys then go up on the stage from the left and girls from the right. The two lines meet in center stage and go down the front steps, each pair bowing to the audience just before they reach the top step.

After the processional comes the invocation, which may either be spoken or sung by a choir or by the graduates themselves. Then, the national anthem is sung and the salutatorian gives their salutatory address which serves as the welcome address or opening remarks. The keynote speaker is then introduced. This speaker may be a notable person, a person of some authority or influence, or even a former student who has made good in their chosen field and whom the school feels should be an inspiration to the graduates. After the keynote address, the school principal, or chancellor in the case of universities, presents the graduates to the representative of the appropriate government institution by having them stand up. The representative in turn declares the students graduates. After this declaration, the graduates are then awarded their diplomas.

The actual diplomas usually are not awarded during the ceremonies; the graduates get their diplomas and other pertinent papers after they have complied with their clearance. In the past, schools usually handed out rolls of paper tied with a ribbon, symbolizing the diplomas. A graduate came on stage when their name was called, accepted the diploma with their right hand, then transferred it to their left hand and shook the hand of the person awarding the diploma. The graduate then went front and center, held the roll of paper at a slant between their hands, left hand at the bottom and right hand at the top, and bowed, then went down the steps and back to their seat. Present trends, however, are for schools to give out leatherette diploma holders during the ceremony, thus eliminating the need for the formal bow and expediting the ceremony. After the awarding of diplomas, the class valedictorian then gives their valedictory address and leads the school pledge of loyalty. The graduates then sing their graduation song and the awards for outstanding graduates are then given out.

After the awards, the school principal then gives the closing remarks and the graduates may sing their closing song. The students and parents then exit the area with a formal recessional. However, they then usually return to have their souvenir pictures taken on the stage.

Candlelight ceremony

Candlelight ceremonies are usually held during high school junior-senior (JS) proms. However, some elementary schools in the provinces made candlelight ceremonies part of the graduation rites. In the original candlelight ceremony for proms, the senior class president usually lit a large ceremonial candle on the stage, then lit their own candle from this flame and symbolically “passed the flame” to the junior class president. The member of the senior class nearest the stage then went up to light their candle and went down to pass the flame to the other seniors, who would then give their lit candles to the juniors.

For elementary school graduation rites, the graduating class sings “One Little Candle” while the class valedictorian lights the ceremonial candle then passes the flame to the other graduates. The graduates blow out the flame together when they are declared graduates.

Graduation song

The graduation song is a vital part of the ceremony. It is considered a symbol of the graduating class and is usually chosen by the graduates, although in some cases the class adviser or the teachers may choose the song themselves. The graduates usually try to choose a song that will express their feelings about graduation.

Some songs have been chosen over and over as graduation songs and in many cases have defined a generation. The Diana Ross song “If We Hold On Together”, for example, became the graduation song in many Philippine schools in the early 1990s. Other songs that Filipino students have chosen to sing during their graduation rites are “Farewell” by Raymond Lauchengco, “The Journey” by Lea Salonga, and “High School Life” by Sharon Cuneta.

See also Top Graduation Songs in the Philippines.


“Garlands” are essential to graduations in the Philippines. These are usually made from plastic ribbon, shaped into a lei and adorned with “flowers” made from the same material. Fresh flowers are never used for graduation garlands, except for everlasting flowers. Some people create special garlands by tying individually wrapped candies end to end; these are usually popular with kindergarten and elementary school graduates. Recently, garlands made of seashells have also been given at graduation rites.

Many high schools now place stands beside the stage and hang garlands on them. When the graduates exit the stage after getting their diplomas, lowerclassmen usually put garlands on each of them. After the recessional, family and friends also place garlands around the necks of the graduates. Some people also give graduation gifts during this time; however, garlands are de rigueur.

Beliefs and traditions

  • Parents of graduates, especially those who received awards or honors, usually hold graduation parties for their children in the afternoon or evening after the graduation rites have concluded. These parties are held both in celebration and in thanksgiving.
  • Some parents do not allow their children to go out on graduation day aside from going to the graduation rites because they fear that something bad might happen to them. This is due to the belief that momentous occasions such as graduations, which mark a milestone in the child’s life, are prone to bad luck. There are no statistics on graduation day accidents in the Philippines; however, this fear is understandable as it would be tragic if anything happened to the child on what should be one of the best days of his life.


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