The special occasion of commencement is distinguished by the use of meaningful symbols:

Academic Regalia (Costume)

The black caps and gowns worn by the students and faculty in the academic procession are of ancient origin. They have been the traditional costume of the scholar since medieval times and probably represent an adaptation of the ecclesiastical dress since many of the scholars of the period were members of the monastic orders. American academic costume had its origins in the 12th-13th century European universities when gowns distinguished doctors, masters and bachelors from other segments of the population.

In 1895, an intercollegiate commission adopted a uniform code for academic dress which has since been adopted by the majority of colleges and universities in the United States. Each of the three academic degrees-bachelor, master, doctor-has its own distinctive gown and hood.

The Gown

The academic gown today symbolizes the democracy of scholarship because it covers any dress of rank or social standing underneath. The gown is usually black. The bachelor’s gown is distinguished by its long point sleeve. The master’s gown has a long, oblong sleeve, extending below the knee. By contrast, the doctor’s gown has a full bell-shaped sleeve with three bars of velvet. The opening of this gown is faced with wide velvet bands. The velvet trim may be black or of a color indicating the general field of learning of the wearer, for example, olive green for pharmacy, apricot for nursing, drab for business and lilac for dentistry.

The Cap

The academic cap is usually black and the material matches the gown. Mortar boards are generally recommended. The color of the tassel denotes the discipline.

The Hood

The most colorful and distinctive item of the academic costume is the hood which passes around the neck and extends down the back. The doctor’s hood is the largest of the hoods and the bachelor’s is the smallest. The bachelor’s hood is often omitted. The color of velvet edging indicates the field of learning. The hood is lined with the official color of the college/university. The color of the facing denotes the discipline represented by the degree. Colors associated with different degrees are:

Agriculture, maize; Arts and Humanities, white; Business and Accounting, drab; Dentistry, lilac; Economics, copper; Education, light blue; Engineering, orange; Fine Arts, brown; Forestry, russet; Journalism, crimson; Law, purple; Library Science, lemon; Medicine, green; Music, pink; Nursing, apricot; Pharmacy, olive green; Philosophy, dark blue; Public Administration, peacock blue; Public Health and Hospital Administration, salmon; Science, golden yellow; Social Service, citron; and Theology, scarlet, Veterinary Science, gray.

Permissible Exceptions

Only members of the governing body of a college or university, whatever their degrees, are entitled to wear doctor’s gowns (with black velvet), but their hoods may be only those of degrees actually held by the wearers or those especially prescribed for them by the institution. The chief marshall may wear a specially designed costume approved by the institution.

Adapted from American University and Colleges, American Council on Education, 1997.

The Mace

The mace is identified with the Office of the President and is carried in academic processions at commencement and convocation ceremonies.  Historical maces date back to the 13th century when they were first carried as ceremonial symbols of royal authority at events attended by English Kings. The Marshall has the honor of serving as the macebearer at these events.

The President’s Medallion 

The President’s medallion is in the form of the University Seal and is made of solid sterling silver and held by a ribbon representing the University colors of burgundy and silver. The medallion represents the authority of the President as the highest dignitary in the institution.