Resources for Graduation Event Professionals

When tassels should be turned at commencement

At commencement, tassels are traditionally worn on the right side of the cap and then moved to the left once graduates receive their diplomas.  Some institutions ask graduates turn their tassels in unison, while others permit graduates to turn their tassels individually.  However, there's another factor to consider.

Tassel in front of graduate's faceFrom a photography standpoint, it is almost always better for the tassel to be on the opposite side of the camera.  If the tassel is on the side of the graduate closest to the camera, there's a possibility that the tassel will obstruct the graduate's face when his/her handshake photograph is taken.

In this example, had this graduate crossed the stage with his tassel on his left side, opposite the photographer, this would have been an outstanding image.  However, when tassels are on the side closest to the camera, there's unfortunately not much the photographer can do to compensate; particularly given that the next graduate is only seconds behind, and the pace of the ceremony is at stake.

A recent audit of 5,000 random handshake photographs taken at ceremonies where graduates crossed with their tassels on the side with the camera indicated almost 20% of graduates had at least part of their faces obstructed by their tassel.  That's one out of every five graduates at these ceremonies who received a less than ideal image for this once-in-a-lifetime memory, which is unfortunate.

At GradImages, we want every family to have the best possible handshake photograph.  So here are some quick tips when planning the flow of your commencement ceremony:

Preferably, graduates would cross the stage from right to left.

Crossing from right to left (as viewed by the audience) is the preferred direction for schools that wish to provide the best handshake photograph for their graduates while adhering to the tradition of not to turn tassels until the degree has been received.  Because the tassel would still be turned to the right during the handshake photograph, it would be on the opposite side of the photographer, which is desired.  Graduates could move their tassels individually while departing stage, or do so in unison after all degrees have been conferred.


If crossing left to right, ideally tassels would be on the left side.

If the commencement ceremony flow is from left to right, and graduates cross while their tassels are still turned to the right, tassels may obstruct the camera's view of their faces, which is undesirable.  To adjust, graduates could be asked to turn their tassels in unison before they start to cross the stage.  Alternatively, while approaching the stage, a photography assistant could quickly work with each graduate make sure the tassel is away from the camera.

Multi-directional ceremonies

The scenarios above still apply to ceremonies where graduates cross from different directions.  For these types of events, the best course of action is normally to have a photography assistant quickly adjusting tassels as graduates approach the stage, particularly for those crossing left to right.  Absent this measure, a significant number of students may receive sub par handshake photographs.

Planning is important.

Graduates are of course unlikely to recognize their tassel may obstruct the camera's view of their face, and take preventative action.  Furthermore, it normally wouldn't be appropriate at the venue - with the commencement about to begin - for the photography staff to suggest (A) altering the ceremony flow or (B) changes to when graduates should be instructed to turn their tassels.  Therefore, if quality handshake photographs are important to the school, as they should be, advanced planning by the commencement coordinators is recommended.

GradImages Clients

If you are a GradImages client and have questions or concerns about your graduates' tassel placement, please reach out to your account manager or field manager.  They're here to help you in any way possible.

Topics: Commencement Preparations Best Practices Commencement Photography