Behind the Scenes: Graduating from a Distance Learning Institution

Excelsior College Commencement 2013

Excelsior College Commencement 2013

Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar colleges with graduations held throughout the month of May, Excelsior College, a pioneer in online and distance learning, holds its annual Commencement ceremony every July in Albany, New York to fit the needs of working adult students and those with families.

With the average adult student 38 years old, Commencement is generally the first time many graduates meet their fellow classmates, their instructors, and advisors who have helped guide them throughout their educational journey via a phone call or email.

[More: Read about the educational journeys of this year's graduates in 'Commencement Stories']

Alicia Baker, commencement coordinator, sat down with Excelsior Life to discuss what to expect during Excelsior College’s upcoming Commencement.

Excelsior Life: What can a new graduate can expect when attending Commencement? Baker: The Commencement ceremony is family-oriented with the traditional pomp and circumstance. Throughout the years, additional elements have been added such as an Awards Convocation which is held the night before graduation.

2013 Graduate Jon Gonzalez and Provost Mary Beth Hanner at Excelsior College Awards

2013 Graduate Jon Gonzalez and Provost Mary Beth Hanner at Excelsior College Awards

Because graduates and their families travel from all over the country to attend Commencement, we have reception activities before and after the ceremony. We also host an open house and provide a tour of the College, since many of our students never set foot on our campus until they are here for Commencement.

At Excelsior College this is not only a day of celebration for graduates, but staff, faculty, alumni and trustees have the opportunity to meet graduates and see how their work is impacting the lives of Excelsior College students. It’s a day that truly validates the efforts of everyone involved!

In addition to caps and gowns, graduates may wear cords that are draped over their gowns. Gold cords mean honors. The red, white and blue cords represent military service.

The flags on stage during Commencement are symbols of the many nations represented by the year’s graduates. Memorable moments for graduates also include capturing photos with family members. The children are excited for their parents and it helps set an example for what they can accomplish.

Excelsior’s Commencement is also unique because graduates can “walk” across the stage during the year they earn their degree or a different year, as long as they participate only once per degree received. Our focus is on our students and attending commencement is a way for them to experience an additional sense of accomplishment.

Excelsior Life: What do students say after they attend graduation?

Baker: Graduates are thrilled with the satisfaction of walking across the stage and being announced one by one. After taking a non-traditional route to earn their degree, participating in a traditional ceremony is the perfect ending to their unique path to earn a degree.

Excelsior Life: How many students graduated from Excelsior College last year?

There were about 4,600 Excelsior College graduates in the class of 2013. Overall, more than 150,000 students have earned a degree from the College.