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Campus Scene: Behind the Scenes of Utah State’s Commencement

Four female students celebrate in their caps and gowns during USU's 2023 commencement ceremonies.
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Take a look behind the curtain at some commencement traditions such as the processional, the selection of the valedictorian speaker, and where those fancy stage ferns come from

By Taylor Emerson

Commencement is a time to celebrate a milestone, an achievement, or a continuation of a learning journey with more milestones and achievements ahead. Graduates are heralded into the university community as alumni — maybe once, twice, or even three times over.

Here at Utah State University, we just honored more than 6,600 such people and handed out more than 7,000 degrees — about 870 of which were handed to first-generation students.

But commencement is also a chance to ring in and revel in several traditions. Some are very apparent — the moving of the tassel from one side of the commencement cap to the other — but some are a little more obscure, unknown, or unheralded. 

This series of videos showcases some of those lesser-known traditions, the history behind each, or the process of them.

Selecting the Speech: A Peek at How the Logan Commencement Ceremony Valedictorian Speaker is Chosen

Each year, the eight colleges at USU select a single undergraduate student to represent their best and brightest — honoring them as their class valedictorian.

Things like grade-point average, credits, breadth of educational experience and completion of University Honors are considered in this process, and each dean ultimately decides who best characterizes their college.

But for the Logan Commencement Ceremony, just one of those eight valedictorians is selected to speak in front of the entire graduating class. So how do they get that honor?

In this video, take a brief look into that selection process and what then happens in the run-up to their big day.

The Festive Ferns: A Look Into the History and Care of USU’s Long-Lasting Ceremonial Ferns

At Utah State University commencement ceremonies, the ferns that adorn the presentation stage are, at this point, almost as ubiquitous as the bagpipes, The Scotsman, and the traditional graduation regalia.

Sure, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but they’ve been around long enough — for more than a generation of graduation celebrations, in fact. And while they do get taken to many other university events, like new building openings or other receptions, they may get noticed the most as they decorate and beautify the stage where graduates receive their degrees.

In this video, take a look into a bit of the history behind them and how they’re cared for after and ahead of each year’s graduation celebration.

The Persistent Procession: A Look at the History and Meaning Behind the Commencement Procession

As the first event of the entire two-day commencement celebration at, the Academic Procession is the first opportunity for the departing class to be seen publicly as graduates. As the students take their final ceremonial journey from the Quad to the Spectrum, they are also participating in quite a bit of history and tradition — even if they don’t recognize they’re doing it.

In this video, get a glimpse into that history and what some of the deeper and hidden meanings behind the procession are.

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