Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0: Graduation Words

Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?


With so many graduations taking place in May and early June, I thought we should discuss some of the words (and their difficult spellings!) associated with this rite of passage seeing as I won’t be in any emotional state to do it next year, when my youngest graduates high school. Just the thought of him walking across the stage to get his diploma brings a lump to my throat. 


Let’s get on with it, shall we?

Commencement, graduation

We often hear commencement and graduation used as synonyms, so what’s the difference? Well, technically, graduation is the act of receiving a diploma or degree from a school, college, or university, while commencement is the ceremony during which degrees or diplomas are given to students who have graduated from school or college. 

Alumnus, alumni

After a graduate receives their degree or diploma, they become an alumnus of that particular school or university. The plural of alumnus is alumni


Who could ever remember how to spell this word? Thank goodness for the Merriam-Webster dictionary app. Baccalaureate is the degree of bachelor conferred by universities and colleges. It can also refer to a sermon to a graduating class or the service at which the sermon is delivered. Many religious schools have a baccalaureate mass or service. 

Academic abbreviations

Is it B.A. or BA for a bachelor’s degree (note the apostrophe). It depends on which style your are using. AP uses the periods, while CMS does not, unless, as it states, “for reasons of tradition or consistency with a journal’s established style.” The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition, has a handy list of degrees and their abbreviations on pages 494-495. 

Associate degree

A two-year degree is called an associate degree (no possessive), according to AP Style. 


It is redundant to address something to Dr. Janet Smith, M.D. The Dr. and the M.D. signify the same thing, her medical degree, so address Janet Smith as either Dr. Janet Smith or Janet Smith, M.D. 

*If you noticed the periods in M.D., it’s because I edit with AP Style on this blog, with the exception of the Oxford comma, which I believe to be extremely important to overall effective communication.

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These five books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.


A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women's fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.


I edit using Chicago Manual of Style. The Oxford comma is absolutely necessary. Lol No one will convince me otherwise.
Oxford comma defenders are not to be trifled with, definitely! :)
R. Doug Wicker said…
Must have my Oxford comma. In my book, NOT using it is simply lazy.
Anonymous said…
Yay for the Oxford comma!

Do we sound like a cult now? :)

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