Frequently Asked Commencement Questions

What should my daughter wear? 

All graduates are required to wear PROFESSIONAL DRESS, WHITE CLOTHING under the graduation gown. They should wear the APPROPRIATE shoes (coordinated with outfit acknowledging that they will be walking a long distance as well as navigating stairs/grass). 

What happens at commencement? 

Graduates, faculty, and platform party process from the front stairs of Smedes to the front gates at Hillsborough Street, then down the center sidewalk in the Grove and take their seats for the ceremony. Greetings are provided, the valedictorian and Class of 2021-elected senior speaker make speeches, special music is provided, a commencement address is delivered, each student is called to receive her diploma, and various awards are given. The ceremony lasts approximately one and a half hours. The dropping of the handkerchief by the Chief Marshal officially closes the ceremony. 

When do the girls receive their caps and gowns, special cords, and announcements? 

Special cords and tassels will be given out at the senior meeting on Monday, May 17.

The following groups of students wear cords during the ceremony:    

  • Gold cords designate students who are graduating with honors (G.P.A. of 3.5 or higher)
  • Gold cap tassels designate students who are graduating with high honors (G.P.A. of 4.0 or higher)
  • Gold and black cords designate graduates who are members of the Saint Mary’ School Chapter of the National Honor Society
  • Blue, white, and red cords designate graduates who are members of the French World Language Honor Society
  • Purple and gold cords designate graduates who are members of the Latin World Language Honor Society
  • Red and yellow cords designate graduates who are members of the Spanish World Language Honor Society
  • Light blue and white cords designate members of the National Honor Society for Dance Arts
  • Rainbow cords designate members of the National Arts Honor Society
  • Blue and yellow cords designate members of the International Thespian Society
  • Light pink cords designate members of the Chorale ?
  • Royal blue and gold cords designate members of the Quill and Scroll International Honorary Society for High School Journalists
  • Navy blue cords designate Student Government Association officers
  • White cords designate students who are Saint Mary’s Marshals
  • Light blue cords designate graduates who have attended Saint Mary’s School for four years 
  • Mint green cords designate members of the Vestry 
  • Blue and silver cords designate Admission Ambassadors
  • Dark pink cords designate Development Ambassadors
  • Silver cords designate Inclusion Ambassadors
  • Orange cords designate Health and Wellness Ambassadors
  • Royal blue and green cords designate senior class officers
  • Blue and red cords designate Sigma/Mu captains
  • Navy and white cords designate members of the Athletic Council
  • Lilac cords designate all senior-year prefects (Day, Boarding, GAP, Technology, Performing Arts, and Visual Arts

When do the dorms close? May senior boarders stay on dorm after exams and prior to graduation? 

Boarding seniors have until 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 23, to check out of the dorm. Seniors may stay on dorm following exams until graduation. If a student would like to stay off-dorm, the general procedure for requesting overnights must be followed. Seniors should pack their belongings and have their room inspected by residential faculty prior to the commencement ceremony.  

Since our underclasswomen will be preparing for exams and we will be following the 24-hour quiet rule, we need for graduates and their families to be respectful of this and be as quiet as possible during the move and check-out process.  

What must a parent do to ensure that his/her daughter graduates?  

Students must be in good standing with the school to graduate, and the items below must be taken care of prior to May 21.  Your daughter must have:

  • Returned her athletic uniform (if applicable) and library books by Friday, May 14 at 4:00 p.m.
  • Returned her Lenovo tablet (clean) to technology by Tuesday, May 18.  Students can begin returning laptops beginning Monday, May 10.
  • Returned textbooks to Individual Teachers by May 18. Individual teachers will give further instructions on when to return textbooks to their classrooms. The absolute last day they can be returned is May 18. 
  • Be cleared by the Business Office (e.g. no outstanding debts): last day to charge to student account is May 14, after which all payments must be in cash or credit card.  Contact Lynette Harris at or 919-424-4126 should you have any questions.

Does Saint Mary’s School take official photos at the commencement ceremony? 

Saint Mary’s School hires a photographer to take individual photos of seniors as they cross the stage to accept their diploma, A link to the livestreaming of graduation will be available after the ceremony. We will have Saint Mary’s staff members taking general photos for our use in school publications or for posting on the website and the school's social media. 

What are the rain plans for commencement events?

The timing of events would be adjusted as needed for inclement weather.  With the current COVID restrictions in place, there is not an option to move indoors.

Parking and ADA Assistance Information

For any of our commencement weekend events, parents, students, and guests may park in any of these areas:

  • Kenan Library lot
  • Overflow lot in front of the Bishop’s House
  • Front of campus on the practice field 
  • School Chapel Drive lot

If assistance is needed for those in wheelchairs, walkers, or on crutches, please contact Security at 919-424-4044 when you arrive on campus. There will be reserved spaces in front of Binder Health Center for handicap parking. From there the easiest movement for those requiring assistance, is to at use the sidewalks behind Smedes Hall to access the Hannah Smith Quad or the sidewalk beside the Chapel to access the Grove.