Graduation is a significant rite of passage and a celebration of achievement as the individual progresses from student to graduate. The Graduation Shoes Project takes shoes as the focal point of research and examines their role in this important ceremonial celebration. Walking across the stage to receive one’s degree is a seminal moment, one in which shoes have a major role to play, carrying the wearer from student to graduate, and on to life’s next exciting adventure.
The Graduation Shoes Project is a longitudinal study launched in July 2019 at Nottingham Trent University (NTU). Taking photographs of the worn shoes and short interviews the project documents the shoes that our graduates are wearing, the stories behind their choices and explores the shoes’ role in this transitional moment in the wearer’s life. Over 900 graduates from across schools and disciplines, undergraduate and postgraduate have participated in the study in July and December 2019, and September 2021.
The interviews have revealed the very personal stories that lie behind the graduates’ shoe choices for this life defining occasion. From worn objects of empowerment, confidence, style, comfort, and individuality through to symbolic representations of family and friendship, shoes are playing an emotive and powerful role in this ceremonial celebration. The day itself is faced with excitement, happiness, pride, and often a sense of nervousness fuelled by a fear of falling as they walk across the stage. The Graduation Shoes Project has become a celebration of our students, and through their shoes we honour their achievements and wonderful stories of life as an NTU student along with their hopes and aspirations as they step into their next chapter of life.
Keep up to date by follow our progress on Instagram
or get involved using the hashtag #ntugraduationshoes . @shoeandtellproject
“Well basically I wanted to make the shoes my outfit. I don’t really believe in being dressed really smart, I don’t feel like it’s me. So I was like I need to wear something that looks really nice but that is still sassy and that bit really, really extra. They are so fluffy and cute.” Psychology and Criminology Graduate, July 2019.
“These are traditional South African shoes, very cultural. I am in the UK and I’ve come all the way from South Africa and I just wanted to have a bit of my culture here today. They say I’m spontaneous. There are a lot of emotions running through me today….I’m going to miss being a student so much.” Business Graduate, July 2019.
“So I have my Dr Martens on today. I thought with the navy suit and the Dr Martens it looked a bit different. So I thought what better way to graduate. I’m sad, it has probably been the best three years of my life.” Fashion Marketing and Branding Graduate, July 2019.
“They are old shoes, and I’ve had them for a few years and thought yeah, they go with my outfit and I’m going to wear them. They are comfortable and flat. I would say they are quite me. I’m so happy, I’m very proud and pleased. My two kids are here with me.” Health and Social Care Graduate, July 2019.
“I think on these events you are standing on your feet all day and if they are not comfortable then the next day is harder to get through. Really excited and proud that three years have finally come to an end and we are celebrating it here today.” Law Graduate, July 2019.
“These are actually Uggs and I did get them on a nice discount, especially for Graduation, before I actually bought my dress. So they didn’t match my dress, but they foretold what my dress was going to be. I’m really happy. When I started the degree I didn’t know what I was doing and I am actually stunned that I’ve got this.” Fashion Communication and Promotion Graduate, July 2019.
“Okay, so these are my moon boots, how I like to call them. My David Bowie shoes. They’ve been with me all through the three years of uni, on a lot of nights out. I thought it’s a good time to wear them. I bought them just before the first year and they have seen me the whole way through. Loud shoes and I’m a loud person. I feel emotional, three years coming to an end.” Biochemistry Graduate, July 2019.
“These are my Dr. Martens Originals, they are quite big and bulky. I’ve had them for many years. They were in my wardrobe and I’ve just not really worn them for ages. I normally wear them in winter with big woolly socks. I just feel relieved. Yeah, it’s finally over, I don’t have to deal with it anymore, it’s done. I am relaxed now, finally.” Live and Technical Events Graduate, July 2019.
“They are quite uncomfortable right now. I feel like I’ve been in them for hours but I can walk upstairs in them so that is ok. I got them because they are bright and quite different. I’ll definitely wear them again, 100%. I’m just glad and happy that I am here. I am just happy that I made it.” Geography Graduate, July 2019.
“So what I’m wearing is Lolita fashion, it’s like from Harajuku and is a small, niche kind of fashion. It’s about femininity and modesty. It’s got like a hyper-feminism wave to it. So I like wear it on special occasions and my shoes are a big part of it. I am always kind of a bit different. I am always wearing something just a little bit crazy. I feel great today.” Psychology with Criminology Graduate, July 2019.
“My shoes are called Ghillie Brogue shoes, they go with my traditional Scottish kilt attire. So when we have formal events in Scotland we always wear traditional Scottish clothing. I am looking forward to it, very excited. I’ve got my young family here as well so it is important that they are all part of it.” MA Educational Management Graduate, July 2019.
” I got these shoes for my dad’s wedding, they are silver, shiny, very pointed toe, they are a bit fun, I feel like I can wear them with quite a plain outfit, and they bring it all together. I thought that when I’m wearing the robe most of my actual outfit is covered, so I thought that I would wear something a bit more snazzy and shiny on my feet. ” MA Culture, Style and Fashion Graduate, December 2019.
” Well, I had a bunch of shoes with me, and when I was deciding what dress to buy, because I have never worn this before, and I figured that I would buy a dress to match the shoes. I know you are not supposed to buy the dress to match the shoes, it is the other way round, but I bought the dress to match these shoes.” MA International Relations Graduate, December 2019.
” They are my flat, sturdy, comfy work shoes. They have seen me through every day in a busy classroom. This is like the combination of everything, they will see me through graduation too.” Biology Secondary Teaching Graduate, December 2019.
” They are comfy I think more than anything, and it’s winter, so I didn’t want anything with open toes. And I think they stand out, I wanted something more than a standard black pair of shoes. Edgy but practical.” Primary PGCE Graduate, December 2019.
” I am wearing some chunky trainers, I guess that they are in at the minute, they are ivory coloured to match my ivory outfit. They link back to my actual MA project, I made a whole body suit that was ivory. So it links into my project.” Fashion and Textiles Graduate, December 2019.
” I’m excited, it’s nice to see people because we haven’t all been together since September, since then we have all got jobs and moved away. It’s nice to come back just before Christmas and see everybody we did our MA together and for most us we did our BA together as well, it’s a nice closing ceremony and to meet up. ” Masters of Research in Chemistry Graduate, December 2019.
” I am proud of myself, I’m a mum of two. I’m really proud today, but deep down a bit saddened as well, because I have just divorced with my husband. I’m going through a rough time, but I have to be strong for my kids, and be strong for myself. Happiness comes within, so I’m happy. At the end of the day I have told myself, most people think marriage is an achievement, but my husband has left me. I’ve got my certificate, this is the biggest achievement that anyone could give me, and that I can carry with me everywhere I go. So I am really proud of myself and happy, and just to thank God for getting me though all this. ” BA (Hons) Social Work Graduate, December 2019.
“They say that I’m very loud, that I enjoy colour a lot, I bring colour into everything, I even did my masters on colour as well and colour in the world. So yeah, that I’m colourful and hopefully sparkly, or I feel sparkly.” Master of Arts, Product and Furniture Graduate, September 2021 (2020 Graduates).
“I’m actually wearing them because my friend styled me an told me I needed a white boot, so I went to Primark and bought a white boot. My friends styled my outfit and told me to, and they kind of go with any dress that I picked.” Pharmacology Graduate, September 2021 (2020 Graduates).
” Im really happy that we have finally got a graduation, and I’m really happy that we got to celebrate it with all our family and friends. It’s kind of nice after a year seeing all your friends again. Yeah, and dressing up, seeing people you haven’t seen in like a year because they’re living all over the country, yeah, it’s been nice.” Chemistry Graduate, September 2021 (2020 Graduates).
” I actually got them from a charity shop in Kent for £7, yeah they’re not the most comfortable but I feel like they will do the job, I’m not a big heels person, more for comfort.” BA Product Design, September 2021 (2020 Graduates).
“I prefer the monk strap than laces I think they’re different, a lot of people wear laces nowadays, so I prefer the strap. If they’re clean and polished they make people think that you look after yourself and look smart.” MA Quantity surveyors in construction Graduate, September 2021 (2020 Graduates).
” Important memories… I guess just like the people on my course, that I went with, they were all helpful and they helped me get my grade, we just helped each other basically, maybe like the fondest memory is the community, the students.” Computer Science Graduate, September 2021 (2020 Graduates).
“Excited and relived, lot of effort in particularly the last year, yeah, it’s pretty excited, especially seeing some people I knew on the course graduating too.” Computer Science Graduate, September 2021 (2020 Graduates).
” Strange, because I’m used to New Rocks, big leather boots and Doc Martens and stuff, so they’re a bit odd, pinching me toes a bit, you can see why they’re dress shoes because you only wear them a couple of times a year.” Environmental Science Graduate, September 2021 (2020 Graduates).
” Just to like to feel dressier, I never really wear heels and obviously it’s a bit more of a dressier occasion. I’m a trainer girl like I wear a dress and trainers any day of the week, but I thought I needed to make an effort.” Sports science and Management Graduate, September 2021 (2020 Graduates).
” Yeah, so these are I think for New Look actually, I like comfy shoes and I’m not particularly a heel person, like I do like heels, but I like chunky heels, so I thought if I’m going to be stuck in these all day go for comfort.” Zoo Biology Graduate, September 2021 (2020 Graduates).
” They’re a pair of Grenson loafers, they have this really nice light sole, leather top, British made, handmade shoe. I’ve always like loafers and I thought I would buy a pair for graduation, I guess. I really like the English aspect of them, all handmade and stuff.” Product Design Graduate, September 2021 (2020 Graduates).
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