For many college students and their parents, the finish line is in sight. Commencement is just around the corner. Students have worked hard to reach this final moment. Parents have been patient (most of the time), have supported, have worried, have encouraged (or downright scolded), have paid tuition again and again, and have possibly had moments when they wondered if this time would ever come.
But the season of Commencement is finally here, with all of the ceremony and pomp and circumstance that accompany it. Most college students have experienced a high school graduation, which may or may not have been as formal as college Commencement. Some students, and their parents, may be wondering what to expect, and what the experience will be like.
The format of commencement may vary according to the nature of the school, the size of the class, the weather, the location, or the particular traditions of the institution. However, many factors may be similar no matter where the ceremony occurs. Commencement is seen as the capstone experience of the student’s academic career. It is a dignified, formal occasion and marks the formal action of conferring and receiving academic degrees. Degrees are conferred on the candidates by the presiding officer (usually the college president) after they have been recommended or presented by another official (often a dean or provost).
Graduates usually wear caps and gowns and faculty members dress in formal academic regalia. Commencement may begin with a procession led by a marshal, the platform party of officials and speakers, the faculty members, and finally the candidates for degrees (students). Students may or may not receive diplomas individually, usually depending on the size of the institution and the graduating class. Sometimes, individual diplomas are conferred at a separate ceremony held by school or displine.
What does all of the regalia mean?
There’s usually a lot of pomp along with all of the circumstance of commencement. Many of the traditions associated with the ceremony and the academic costume stem from the medieval universities of Europe. Most scholars at that time were also clerics and wore their formal ”robes”, often for warmth. Later, in 1895, representatives of institutions met and adopted a code of academic dress which would reflect the history of higher education.
The traditional gown is different depending on the degree held by the faculty member. Bachelor and Master’s gowns are usually black with bell-shaped, pointed sleeves for those with Bachelor’s degrees and long, closed sleeves for those with Master’s degrees. Doctoral gowns have velvet down the front and three bars of velvet on the sleeves. These doctoral gowns may also be colorful, with the color indicating the school granting the degree.
Along with the gown and traditional cap, faculty members wear hoods, with the length of the hood also indicating whether the wearer holds a Bachelor, Master, or Doctoral degree. The colors of the hood indicate both the degree held and the institution granting the degree. The velvet edging of the hood indicates the academic discipline and the satin lining of the hood indicates the institution. So it is possible to look at someone dressed in academic regalia and determine the degree held, the discipline in which the degree is held, and the institution from which the person graduated.
Here are a few of the more common hood edging colors:
Education – Light blue Fine Arts – Brown
Arts & Humanities- White Engineering – Orange
Law – Purple Science – Gold
Business – Drab Medicine – Green
Library Science – Lemon Music – Pink
Nursing – Apricot Philosophy – Dark blue
Physical Education – Sage green Theology – Scarlet
Veterinary Medicine — Gray
Whether or not you have a background in the meaning of all of the academic regalia or the pomp and circumstance of the occasion, commencement is a wonderful time for proud parents and proud students. Remembering that this is a formal ceremony marking the end of the college career (and the commencement of a new phase), will help you to appreciate the occasion and allow you to settle in and enjoy and celebrate your student’s accomplishments.