Springtime and early summer are the seasons of many things. The trees get leaves, all of a sudden there are flowers everywhere, love is in the air... Also, exams. Do you know the feeling? You're nervous, you've studied your arse off for the last weeks, it's time to prove what you're worth. And then, then it's finally over! An endless summer of no responsibilities and freedom await. That calls for a celebration! Read on to learn more about two different ways of celebrating your graduation in Europe: earning your degree in Oxford and finishing high school in Oslo.


It will come as no surprise that the graduation ceremonies of the second-oldest university in the world are surrounded by traditions. Many traditions. What may come as a surprise to you is that today, these traditions are mixed with modern ways of celebrating your graduation. The weird mix of tradition and renewal makes the graduation period at Oxford a wonderful, quirky time where many different things take place all at once.

If you go to Oxford during graduation season, the first thing you will notice is probably the way the students dress. If you didn't know any better, you'd think that they were all dressed as judges. What they are really wearing are so-called subfusc; traditional gowns worn over a suit (for boys) or a slightly odd feminine equivalent involving a black ribbon instead of a bow tie (for girls). During exams, subfusc is decorated with carnations in different colours that represent how far along you are in the process: on the first day of your exams, the carnation is white. It is then changed for a pink one and then finally, in your last exam, you decorate your gown with a deep red flower. 

Photo: Art History Images (CC ANC 2.0)
The Sheldonian Theatre on Degree Day

You might think that after that final terrifying exam, the students would want to sleep solidly for a few days. Instead, when they leave the exam hall, they are greeted by their friends, who begin a student invented ritual called "trashing": the nice old-fashioned gowns are covered in flour and grease. Usually, the ritual involves throwing confetti, silly string, ketchup and water in the student's face, and even though the local police do not approve, quite a bit of champagne is also splashed over their head. It's not uncommon to see a student who has been trashed walking through the city with a dazed expression on his or her face.

When it's time for Degree Day - the day of the actual graduation - you can really feel that Oxford is one of the oldest surviving universities in the world. The graduation speech is in Latin, and students have to hear it in batches because the Sheldonian Theatre is too small to fit them all. What about just finding a different venue, then? No, silly, that would breach tradition!

The Commemoration Ball is another event which is soaking with century-old rituals and fashions. Here, the graduates enjoy a fancy dinner in the old hall. It's a white tie event, but that doesn't mean it's all fancy and stuck-up. In fact, graduates are expected to stay up all night (in the most literal sense of the word), because at dawn, the university has a special treat for them... A full English breakfast served with champagne accompanied by a violin serenade. 

All in all, you really can't explain what graduating at Oxford is like until you get to experience it yourself. It's worth keeping in mind when choosing a university, right? 


Photo: Ronny Andre (CC ANC-SA 2.0)
High school seniors in their special russ outfit.

You may think that your high school or university really goes crazy when they celebrate graduation. Perhaps even small towns completely change for a few weeks. In Norway, though, they take things to the next level. It's like the entire country goes mad. Russefeiring, as it is called, is definitely one of the more extreme ways of celebrating graduation, and what's even more extreme is that they celebrate... Before their exams!

More precisely, Russefeiring starts during April or early May (although some people actually begin the celebration as soon as the autumn before) and ends with the celebration of Norway's national day on the 17th of May. During this period, high school seniors embark on a drinking spree so remarkable that's it's been criticised by several high school principals who have attempted to limit the Norwegians' unlimited partying. (Guess how successful they've been so far).

Before the 70's, russefeiring (which originated in Denmark) was not that wild. The students woke their teachers up early in the morning and had a few beers. Since then, different rituals have been added to the tradition. Among other things, the students wear special uniforms and hats onto which they add knots known as russeknuter – each knot represent the completion of a knuteregel, literally knot rule. Tasks to be completed are for example staying up until the sun rises, skinny-dipping and drinking certain amounts of alcohol in a short period of time.

All in all, russefeiring is more pervasive than many other graduation rituals. The length of the rituals and the degree of which they take over the students' lives are not seen anywhere else. Perhaps it's worth a visit to the North to see for yourself! 

Thumbnail photo: Cary Bass (CC BY SA 3.0)

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