Why we wear ugly robes for Graduation, and other traditions

As SLV seniors anxiously approach graduation day, the campus is buzzing for the preparation of the ceremony that will symbolize one of the biggest milestones of their lives. Yet graduation customs have become so common it is easy to overlook the meaning behind the awkwardly oversized gowns and strangely shaped cpas. Every school graduation is unique, yet there are certain traditions that stick. Here is some insight to the history and meaning of some of the most known graduation traditions.

The uplifting tune that everyone has come to know as the “graduation march” is actually formally named the “Pomp and Circumstance” or “Land of Hope and Glory”. The song was written by Sir Edward Elgar in 1901. The title “Pomp and Circumstance” was inspired by Shakespear’s famous line from Othello, “Pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war!” It was when Elgar graduated Yale in 1905 and the song was played during the ceremony where the tradition originated. From then on, universities and high schools took on the tune to make it one of the most wide-spread graduation traditions of today.

The tradition of caps and gowns originated in the 12th century when there were insufficient heating systems at schools and scholars turned to long black robes with hoods to keep warm during the ceremony. Later the hood was replaced by a cap to reflect the official attire of academics. Around this time period, these caps were also used by other types of intellectuals such as artists, writers and poets, and therefore has become a symbol of intelligence. So despite the blistering hot weather here on Graduation Day, SLV remains true to tradition and faces the heat in clothes meant to keep warm.

The throwing of caps is one of many graduation traditions. Source: http://www.linfield.edu/dce/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/graduation-caps.gif

The throwing of the graduation cap is a tradition that originated form the Naval Academy in 1912. Usually, when the men served a certain term, they had a graduation ceremony to advance to being officers, and therefore were required to keep their hats. However, the class of 1912 was commissioned from the time of graduation and received their officer hats, so their hats were no longer needed, and they simultaneously threw their hats into the air, hence a tradition that schools took on. Now, the tossing of the cap is more symbolic of the end of a chapter in one’s life.

THe turning of the tassel is a more recent tradition. While the tassel was originally intended for decoration, it now has taken on a more symbolic meaning. Before the ceremony, the tassel is worn on the right side of the cap. The tassel is then moved to the left side once the student has received their diploma. THe act represents the individual’s advancement from candidate to graduate.

So next time you attend or participate in a graduation ceremony here at SLV, keep in mind where these famous traditions originated and know there is meaning behind every strange custom.

-Addie Pavelko


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