It’s Time to Graduate!

Graduation TraditionsMay is a busy month full of celebrations.

One of the biggest is graduation.

It is a time to celebrate your accomplishments and achievements over the past few years.  How much do you know about all the traditions behind that special day?

Baccalaureate and Commencement Ceremonies
CommencementCommencement is when the graduates are given their diplomas, and walk across the stage, and move the tassels on their hats (or mortarboards) from one side to the other upon receiving their degrees.  The baccalaureate ceremony is considered the highlight of the school year.  It is a time to formally recognize the achievements of students who are in honor societies and who have earned academic excellence.

The American Heritage dictionary defines a baccalaureate as: (1) The degree of Bachelor conferred upon graduates of most U.S. colleges and universities and (2) The farewell address delivered in the form of a sermon to the graduating class of a High School or College.  Another source states that the ceremony originated back to a statute dated 1432 at Oxford University, that required each bachelor to deliver a sermon in Latin as part of his academic exercise.  Can you imagine how long this would take today?

Hoods vs. Caps
When it comes to the baccalaureate, some individuals are given symbolic hoods.  The origin of the academic hood is said to go back to the Celtic people and their pagan priests, called the Druids.  Now, within the Celtic groups, only the Druid priests wore capes with hoods to symbolize their superiority in the group.  The Druids were considered to have superior knowledge of the sciences and nature.  Today the hood is used to identify a graduate’s academic institution and degree.

The velvet color on the outer edge of the hood denotes the graduate’s degree – white for arts and letters, gold for science, and brown for fine arts.  The combination of the institutional and departmental colors represents a scholar’s academic achievement.  The shape and size of the hood and the sleeve design of the gown show the degree a student pursued:

  1. Bachelor’s Degree gown has pointed sleeves and no hood.
  2. Master’s Degree gown has long, closed sleeves with arm slits and a narrow hood.
  3. Doctoral Degree has bell-shaped sleeves and a draped, wide hood.


The color of the hood’s lining tells which college or university the degree was given.  For example, Harvard is crimson, Temple is cherry and white, and Cornell is purple and white.  Other than the lining, the hood must be black.  The field of study is designated by the color of the hood’s facing.  For example: Theology = scarlet; Arts, Letters, and Humanities = white; and Music = pink.

Hood Colors

Pomp and Circumstance
Pomp & CircumPomp and Circumstance” is the tune that you hear played at graduation as the graduates walk to the stage to receive their diploma. It was composed by Sir Edward Elgar (June 2, 1857-Feb. 23, 1934) and was first performed on October 19, 1901 in Liverpool, England.  Elgar is considered a self-taught composer and is most famous for his five Pomp and Circumstance Marches.  He became “Sir” (knighted) in 1904 and appointed master of the king’s music in 1924.  Elgar is the first major composer to record his music systematically for the phonograph.

Stay tuned for the next blog post on the cap and gown, the tassel, and the tradition of tossing the hats!  

Let us know about your favorite graduation memories.


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