Graduation season is upon us, and soon all across the world university campuses will be filled with graduates donning their caps and gowns. But why do we wear these iconic garments on such a momentous day? What do they symbolize and represent to us? The graduation cap and gown might just be pieces of clothing, but they hold a lot of meaning behind them.
One of the most significant symbols of the graduation cap is its square shape, which represents the knowledge that the wearer has attained. It’s more than just a fashionable hat; it is a symbol of the years of hard work, dedication, and persistence that has led up to this pivotal moment. The tassel, too, holds meaning, with right-side positions representing successfully obtaining the degree and left-side placement indicating the journey is not yet finished.
The graduation gown symbolizes more than just a formal attire for the big day. It represents the prestige of one’s academic status and the achievement of fulfilling the academic requirements to earn one’s degree or diploma. It is a symbol of honor, excellence, and accomplishment. The tradition of donning a cap and gown has been around for centuries, and it is an enduring symbol of knowledge and achievement that transcends generations. As you can see, the graduation cap and gown aren’t just clothing; they are a representation of the culmination of one’s academic journey.
History of the Graduation Cap and Gown
For many years, the graduation gown and cap have been a symbol of academic achievement and success. The origin of these garments dates back to the Middle Ages, when scholars wore long robes and hoods to keep themselves warm in unheated buildings.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, universities began to emerge in Europe, and academic attire became more prevalent. The gown and hood were seen as a sign of status and were worn by students, professors, and other officials. These garments were often made of expensive materials such as silk and velvet and were adorned with decorative trim and embroidery.
The graduation cap, also known as the mortarboard, has its origins in the biretta, a similar hat worn by Catholic clergy. The biretta was worn during religious ceremonies to signify the wearer’s authority, but it later became associated with academic achievement as well. The modern mortarboard cap we know today evolved from the biretta, with its square shape and tassel.
- The first documented use of academic attire in the United States dates back to 1754, when Yale University awarded honorary degrees to three men wearing robes and hoods.
- By the early 1800s, most American colleges and universities had adopted academic dress for their commencement ceremonies.
- In 1895, an Intercollegiate Commission established a standardized code for academic regalia, which included specific colors and designs for gowns, hoods, and caps.
Today, the graduation gown and cap are worn by students of all ages and backgrounds, from high school to doctoral degree recipients. They remain a symbol of academic achievement, signifying the hard work and dedication required to earn a degree.
Here is a table detailing the colors and designs of academic regalia as established by the Intercollegiate Commission:
|Wide, flowing sleeves and open front
|Square, with a tassel on top
|Varies by degree and institution
|Colored lining and velvet trimming to signify degree and field of study
Origin of the Graduation Cap and Gown
The graduation cap and gown have become iconic symbols of academic achievement and are worn by graduates all around the world. But where did this tradition come from? Let’s take a closer look at the origins of the graduation cap and gown.
- The tradition of wearing academic robes dates back to the medieval universities in Europe.
- During this time, universities were run by the Church and it was customary to dress in clerical robes for formal events.
- As the universities grew and became more secular, the distinction between clerical and academic dress became more pronounced.
In the United States, academic regalia was not commonly worn until the late 19th century. It was around this time that several American universities attempted to standardize academic dress. The Intercollegiate Commission, a group of representatives from various American universities, was established in 1893 to create a uniform code of academic regalia. This code included the traditional cap and gown that we see today.
Over time, variations of the graduation cap and gown have developed. The cap, or mortarboard, has remained relatively consistent in its design, featuring a square board with a tassel hanging from the center. The gown, however, has evolved into several different styles, with variations in length, sleeve shape, and hood design.
|A black gown with long, pointed sleeves; may be worn closed or open
|A black gown with oblong sleeves; features a slit near the elbow for the arm to pass through
|A black gown with bell-shaped sleeves and velvet trim on the front facing and sleeves; may feature elaborate embroidery on the velvet trim
Knowing the meaning behind the colors adds another layer of pride and accomplishment to graduates on their special day. It is also a reminder of the diverse fields of study that contribute to the richness of the academic community.
Different Types of Academic Regalia
Academic regalia is a uniform worn by students and faculty members during graduation ceremonies. It comprises a graduation gown, hood, and cap (also known as the mortarboard). The regalia varies depending on the level of education and the discipline a student is graduating from.
There are different types of academic regalia, and they include:
- Bachelor’s Regalia: It consists of a graduation gown, cap, and tassel. The gown has pointed sleeves, and the cap has a flat square on the top.
- Master’s Regalia: It comprises a graduation gown, cap, and tassel. The gown has oblong sleeves with a slit at the elbow, and the cap has a round-shaped top. It also includes a hood lined with a color representing the student’s discipline.
- Doctoral Regalia: It consists of a graduation gown, cap, tassel, and hood. The gown has a velvet panel on the front and three velvet stripes on each sleeve. The cap has a round-shaped top and a gold tassel, and the hood is lined with satin and decorated with velvet.
- Faculty Regalia: It comprises a graduation gown, cap, tassel, and hood. The gown has an open-front design, velvet panels, and three velvet stripes on each sleeve. The cap has a tassel, and the hood is lined with satin and decorated with velvet.
- Law Regalia: It consists of a graduation gown, cap, tassel, and hood. The gown has long, pointed sleeves, and the cap has a square-shaped top. The hood is significantly larger than other hoods and is lined with the color representing their achievement.
- Other Regalia: These may include specialized regalia for certain disciplines, such as music or theology. The regalia typically follows the standard format but features specific colors and decorations that represent their field of study.
It is essential to wear the appropriate academic regalia during graduation ceremonies as it symbolizes not only the academic achievement but also the discipline and level of education a student has completed. Each type of regalia has specific colors and designs that indicate the degree and graduation achievement of the student.
|Specific color representing discipline
|Velvet panel on front and sleeves
|Round-shaped top with gold tassel
|Lined with satin and decorated with velvet
|Open-front design with velvet panels
|Single-color with tassel
|Lined with satin and decorated with velvet
|Long, pointed sleeves
|Square-shaped top with tassel
|Larger than other hoods and lined with colors representing their achievement
Overall, academic regalia is a symbol of academic achievement, representing the level of education and discipline of a graduating student. The different types of regalia vary in design, colors, and symbols, but they all signify the hard work and dedication that students put into their academic pursuits.
Importance of the Tassel
The tassel is a significant symbol in graduation ceremonies. It’s a small piece of cloth that hangs from the graduation cap, usually made of silky threads. The tassel itself is attached to a button on the top center of the cap. You might have noticed that in most graduation ceremonies, the tassels are worn on the right side of the cap before the degree is conferred, and on the left side of the cap after the degree is conferred.
The movement of the tassel – from right to left – is a tradition that has been observed by graduates worldwide for years. However, what many people don’t know is that the tassel also symbolizes some significant aspects of the student’s academic journey. Here are some of the meanings behind the movement of the tassel during graduation:
- The tassel on the right: Before the degree is conferred, the tassel is worn on the right side of the cap, symbolizing the student’s ongoing journey of learning and academic pursuit. This position reminds the graduate that the destination is still ahead, and they must continue to strive towards their goals.
- The tassel on the left: After the degree is conferred, the tassel is moved to the left side of the cap, symbolizing the student’s accomplishment and a new beginning. This position signifies that the student has crossed the threshold from being a student to becoming a graduate and is ready to take on new challenges in their professional life.
- The color of the tassel: The color of the tassel itself can also hold significance. It usually has the same color as the hood of the robe, representing the student’s major or area of study. In some cases, it might also indicate the school or university colors.
Additionally, some schools may have specific rules about tassel colors and positions. Therefore, make sure to check with your school or program to ensure that you observe the correct protocol.
Academic Hoods and their Colors
Graduations are marked by the tradition of wearing academic regalia. The cap and gown are the most recognizable symbols of graduation, but the hood is equally significant. The hoods are reserved for individuals who have earned degrees beyond the bachelor’s level. They come in different colors and styles, indicating the degree and discipline of the wearer. Let’s take a closer look at academic hoods and their colors.
- The master’s hood is the most common hood worn during graduation. It is usually made of black fabric and has a silk lining in the color of the discipline. The length of the hood varies depending on the degree. A master’s hood has a three-foot length, which is longer than a bachelor’s hood.
- The doctoral hood is more elaborate than the master’s hood. It is four-feet long and has velvet panels on the sides. The velvet panels must be in the color of the discipline, while the shell fabric is black. The doctoral degree holder may display the color of their discipline on the lining, just like the master’s hood.
- The specialist hood is the shortest of the three, measuring only two-and-a-half feet long. The hood’s shell color is blue-gray, while the lining indicates the discipline.
The different colors of academic hoods represent the various fields of study. The American Council on Education has assigned a specific color for each discipline, which serves as a guide for the academic community. Here is a table of some of the common colors and their corresponding disciplines:
|Arts and Letters
Knowing the color of your academic hood is not only an important aspect of graduation but also serves as a reminder of your achievement. Your hood represents the discipline you studied and the degree you earned. It is a tangible symbol of the countless hours of work and dedication put into your academic journey.
Wearing of the Cap and Gown Outside of Graduation
It’s not uncommon to see people wearing graduation caps and gowns outside of graduation ceremonies. Some even choose to wear them for fun photoshoots or as part of costumes for themed events. So, what does wearing the cap and gown outside of graduation symbolize?
- Achievement: Wearing the cap and gown is a way to show off your educational achievement. It’s a symbol of all the hard work and dedication you put into earning your degree.
- Honor: It’s an honor to wear the cap and gown, and wearing them outside of graduation is a way to acknowledge the respect and pride associated with the achievement.
- Celebration: Wearing the cap and gown can be a way to celebrate your achievement with others. It can be a fun way to mark the occasion and share your success with those around you.
While wearing the cap and gown outside of graduation may not be traditional, it’s a way to express pride in your achievement and celebrate all the hard work that went into earning your degree. So, if you feel like donning your cap and gown for a special occasion, go ahead and do it!
Graduation Cap and Gown in Different Countries
Graduation ceremonies are celebrated across various countries, and as such, the graduation cap and gown have different symbolic meanings in these countries. In this subsection, we’ll explore how the cap and gown are worn and interpreted in different parts of the world.
- The United States: In the United States, graduation ceremonies are steeped in tradition with caps and gowns being worn by graduates. The cap, also known as a mortarboard, is worn atop the head while the gown is worn over the graduate’s attire. The tassel on the cap is moved from the right to the left side of the cap once the degree is conferred. The black gown symbolizes the solemnity and gravity of the occasion while the cap, with its square shape, is said to symbolize the shape of a building, signifying the graduate’s readiness to construct and contribute to society.
- United Kingdom: In the United Kingdom, academic dress codes are guided and defined by the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. The graduation gown is usually made of black or sometimes blue cloth, adorned with a sash or hood that’s worn across the shoulder. The combination of different colors and patterns of hoods is said to symbolize the different faculties and disciplines of the graduates.
- South Africa: In South Africa, graduation ceremonies are presided over by the Vice-Chancellor and are usually held in large auditoriums. Graduates traditionally wear academic gowns that vary according to the degree and institution where the graduate has studied. The hood, which is traditionally lined with the colors of the degree, is draped over the shoulders, symbolizing the graduate’s achievement and recognition of their academic pursuit.
As you can see, the graduation cap and gown hold meaningful significance across various cultures and societies. From North America to Southern Africa, these symbolic garments help to mark significant milestones of academic achievement, honor, and recognition. No matter where you live, the cap and gown are an ongoing testament to the far-reaching impact of education and the importance of knowledge acquisition as a tool for personal and societal development.
What does the graduation cap and gown symbolize?
1. What is the history behind the graduation cap and gown?
The graduation cap and gown originated from medieval universities in Europe, where scholars would wear long robes and hoods to keep warm in drafty lecture halls.
2. What does the color of the gown symbolize?
The color of the gown varies depending on the academic discipline of the graduate. For example, blue may represent philosophy, green may represent medicine, and white may represent arts and humanities.
3. What does the tassel on the cap symbolize?
The tassel on the cap is typically black, but it may also be in the graduate’s school colors or a color that represents their field of study. The tassel is traditionally worn on the right side and then moved to the left side during the ceremony to symbolize the conferral of the degree.
4. Why do graduates wear caps and gowns?
The tradition of wearing caps and gowns represent the formality of the occasion, and the high level of academic achievement. It also provides a sense of unity and equality among graduates.
5. Why do graduates throw their caps in the air at the end of the ceremony?
Throwing the cap in the air represents the joy and celebration of completing a long and challenging journey. It is a way to express excitement and happiness with fellow graduates, friends, and family.
6. Is there any significance to the shape of the cap?
The shape of the cap, sometimes called a mortarboard, represents the shape of a scholar’s mind that has been expanded through education.
7. What does the graduation ceremony symbolize?
The graduation ceremony symbolizes the completion of a chapter in the graduate’s life, as well as the beginning of a new chapter full of new opportunities.
Now that you know the rich history and symbolism behind the graduation cap and gown, you can appreciate your own graduation ceremony even more. Congratulations on your hard-earned accomplishment, and thank you for reading! We hope to see you again soon.