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Many stories feature a principal cast that is primarily made of children or teenagers, and many such series therefore spend a good amount of time with these characters in school. When these stories end, it's common to send the cast off in a grand fashion by having them graduate from their present school level. As the big day approaches, characters meet to talk about where they're going next, reminisce about the good times together (such finales are often part Clip Show, allowing the audience to relive those moments), or just have one last great bash before they graduate and all (or some) go their separate ways. These are especially poignant when the characters are in High School, as it adds an extra layer of the cast passing into adulthood and really starting their lives on their own.
This is sometimes even reversed: In stories set in a Summer Camp, the separation is brought about by the beginning of the school year, rather than the end.
This is Truth in Television, as many school friendships are broken up (at least partially) as the group's members go to different schools in the new year. Even when friends keep in touch afterward, a good portion of their time together is cut short as they no longer attend the same campus.
This combination of shared accomplishment and impending separation usually makes these Bittersweet Endings.
Anime and Manga
- Azumanga Daioh
- Ichigo 100%
- School Rumble Z.
- Ojamajo Doremi ended with the characters graduating from elementary school.
- K-On!!!, though there are two bonus episodes that follow to allow the audience a little more time with the cast.
- Angel Beats
- High School Musical: The third movie ends with their graduation, although Sharpay isn't gone for good.
- Grease. What other movie?
- This is subverted by the Harry Potter books, which is notable in light of it being a school-based series, and most readers were probably expecting a graduation ending. Instead, in the last book Harry, Ron, and Hermione drop out of school to fight Voldemort. The book ends with the Final Battle, followed by a brief Distant Finale. (According to Word of God, Hermione resumed her education after the Final Battle, but Harry and Ron didn't.)
- The Christopher Pike Final Friends mini-series ends with high school graduation.
Live Action TV
- Malcolm in the Middle.
- Saved by the Bell
- Averted with The College Years, as the show was cancelled after a season. Conversely, The New Class took the trope to its logical extreme by having Mr. Belding retire as the students graduated.
- The various Saved By The Bell Meets [X] shows played with this trope - Hang Time & Saved By The Bell: The New Class subverted this due to Revolving Door Casting meaning several characters were written out with this an excuse, City Guys on the other hand played it straight.
- The Steve Harvey Show
- Subverted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer despite graduating and blowing up their school on the Hellmouth, the driving force of the story, at the end of the third season no major character has this happen to them. Three end up in a new story and one leaves shortly after, but none leave because they graduated.
- Head of the Class
- Big Wolf on Campus
- Skins series 2. The third series featured a new cohort, including the former Recurring Character of Tony's little sister Effy.
- The Young Ones ends with the boys receiving their university results - "You have come last out of everyone in the world" - then deciding to abandon the everyday world and hit the road (before crashing over a cliff and dying)
- Even Stevens ended with Ren graduating middle school and going on to high school, but due to Dawson Casting it felt like high school graduation.
- The Suite Life series ended this way too.
- Black Hole High's series finale takes place right before and through graduation.
- Happens often in Degrassi. This serves not only to let other characters leave but also to let in new characters (freshmen).
- Another video game example, but with a twist: When you graduate from the Guild in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky, it starts the post-game story.
- Same deal with Bully, "graduating" from Bullworth Academy.
- Persona 3 features this in both the good and bad ending, even though the hero and the majority of the team are not graduating that year.
- Persona did it first with its ending. It even gives a nice little Where Are They Now on the party members noting that the Protagonist's future is for us to decide. (Though Persona 2 Eternal Punishment tells part of it was But Now I Must Go.)
- Inverted and played with in Disgaea 3 Absence of Justice: a graduation does play an important part in the story, but it happens in the middle of the main plot, enabling Raspberyl, Kyoko and Asuka to become full time Player Characters now that they don't have to worry about maintaining their perfect attendance any longer.
- Mana Khemia Alchemists of Al Revis: Videogame example, but yes.
- Scary Go Round ends with the school-age characters finishing school and going off to university or starting work, and Shelley leaving Tackleford to take a job in London.
- Kim Possible. The Grand Finale is even named "Graduation".
- The original version of Doug ends with them graduating middle school. This is ignoring a Christmas Episode that aired nearly six months later and didn't really wrap anything up.
- Well, the Christmas special was made towards the beginning of season four, but they held it off from airing until December (since Doug would usually air new episodes in the fall).
- Daria: Is It College Yet? had Daria, Jane and the rest of their class (except Kevin) get ready for college and graduate at the end. Quinn and her friends are a year younger, of course, so they just get to move on to senior year.
- Recess: School's Out had the kids leave fourth grade in the beginning, as the movie was suppossed to be the Grand Finale. The kids are shown in fourth grade in the episodes after that (maybe, since the classroom scenes were gone and Miss Grotke went AWOL, they might have moved up already), only because the show was Uncanceled. We do see them move up to fifth grade in the 2003 DTV movie Recess: Taking the Fifth Grade.