Lost in the Pond: How America’s ‘Graduation March’ was Actually a Product of England


Image credit: Flickr, Fahim Fadz. Creative Commons 2.0.

It’s that time of year again when families from all across America ready themselves to watch their son or daughter graduate from varying tiers of the education system.

Anyone who has attended such an event will no doubt be familiar with the standard graduation checklist: a procession of students in mortarboards and gowns; commencement addresses; proud moms and dads; and at least one screaming child.

But no American graduation ceremony would be complete without the “graduation march”, or as it is formally known, Pomp and Circumstance. With it comes an atmosphere that seems to speak at once to the achievements and hard work of hundreds of students, while adding a sense of finality to their long and arduous journey into adulthood.

The funny thing about this tune, however, is that it is not American at all, but British.

The music was composed in 1901 by Sir Edward Elgar as the first in a series of marches known as the Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches.

The famous portion of the march – that is, the part played on graduation day – is known as Land of Hope and Glory, and was re-purposed in 1902 for Elgar’s Coronation Ode for King Edward VII.

Since then, the tune has gone on to become a mainstay of England’s celebrated Last Night at the Proms and has even flirted with the prospect of becoming the country’s national anthem.

Indeed, a 2006 BBC study found that over half of England’s population would prefer Land of Hope and Glory to the current UK national anthem, God Save The Queen (the tune to which was also used for the American patriotic song My Country, ‘Tis of Thee).

Of course, whenever I bring up this fact to even the most discerning of Americans, there is a look of incredulity: why would you want to use the graduation march as your national anthem?

The answer is simple: to us Brits, the tune has never been the graduation march, nor, more recently, has it been the entrance music of the late pro-wrestler Macho Man Randy Savage.

Rather, it is the tune that most perfectly sums up the resilience, ingenuity and dignity of that little country known as England.

Now have a cuppa, sit back, and listen to Land of Hope and Glory in all its splendo(u)r.

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