Graduation Grammar: Alumn, Cum Laude, Emeritus … And More
Graduating with honor
There are three levels of graduating with honor (cum pronounced koom; laude pronounced loudy):
- Cum laude: Graduating with honor (grade point average of 3.5–3.7)
- Magna cum laude: Graduating with great honor (grade point average 3.8–3.9)
- Summa cum laude: Graduating with highest praise (grade point average of 4.0+)
- Alumnus refers to one male graduate.
- Alumna refers to one female graduate.
- Alumni is the plural of alumnus, but it also can refer to a group of mixed-gender graduates.
- Alumnae is the plural of alumna, referring to a group of female graduates.
- A shortcut and easy way to avoid errors when using these Latin terms is to use alum for a graduate of any gender and alums for any group of graduates. However, I recommend using these generic terms only in informal contexts.
- A retired university professor is referred to as a professor emeritus.
- A retired female university professor often is referred to as a professor emerita.
- Harvard University Professor Emeritus Seth Simon will address our group on Tuesday.
- Seth Simon, professor emeritus of Harvard University, will address our group on Tuesday.
And please don’t say or write that a graduate “received” a degree. Honor the accomplishment with the appropriate verb: Graduates “earn” a degree.
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