What Is the Difference Between Convocation and Commencement?

The words “commencement” and “convocation,” taken together, describe parts of university graduations. Commencement is a ceremony during which graduates receive diplomas. Convocation is a formal gathering at a university.

Different universities may apply the terms commencement and convocation differently, but the definitions of the words are similar and connected. For example, Arizona State University and the University of Texas respectively honor all graduates during their universities’ annual commencements. Given the number and variety of graduates and guests in attendance, these commencements address broad audiences with general inspiration and information applicable to the universities as a whole. Academic deans at these universities preside over separate, smaller convocation ceremonies during which graduates receive specific recognition. Commencements are large, while convocations are intimate.

However, Rochester Institute of Technology hosts a university-wide academic convocation ceremony. It holds separate commencements for the various academic colleges that are part of the larger university, such as the College of Liberal Arts.

Convocations are frequently a part of university graduations. By definition though, convocation may apply to any ceremony involving a school’s administration and faculty. A welcoming convocation might address all incoming students at the beginning of year. The concept of commencement, as it to relates to schools and universities, always refers to graduations.

Harvard University, the oldest college in the United States, hosted its first graduation on September 23, 1642. Graduations for many institutions occur annually during late spring.