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News and information from Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, Kansas.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Graduation regalia recalls ancient traditions

Editor's Note: Pittsburg State University commencement ceremonies are as follows: College of Arts & Sciences and College of Business, 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 19; College of Education and College of Technology, 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 20. Both ceremonies will be held in the John Lance Arena in the Weede Physical Education Building. For the commencement schedule, visit the PSU Web site at www.pittstate.edu/registrar. For information about PSU commencement traditions and academic regalia, contact Dr. Lee Christensen, associate vice president for academic programs and services, lchriste@pittstate.edu, 620-235-4200.

At more than 2,000 colleges and universities this month, long lines of graduates clad in black "mortar board" caps and robes will march across the stage to receive their diplomas. Punctuating the sea of black will be bright flashes of color on hoods, tassels and cords. These same traditions will be an important part of commencement ceremonies in the John Lance Arena at Pittsburg State University on Friday and Saturday, May 19-20.

For the thousands of friends and family members in the audience, these scenes are just part of the colorful pomp and circumstance of graduation. But every part of the academic regalia has meaning, with roots that extend back 1,000 years.

According to "American Universities and Colleges," the modern cap and gown worn by both graduating students and university faculty is reminiscent of medieval scholars who wore long gowns, in part for warmth in unheated buildings. Those same scholars shaved the crowns of their heads, making hoods and later skull caps necessary to keep their heads warm.

English colleges codified the standards for academic regalia in the 14th century, and in the days of Henry VIII, Oxford and Cambridge prescribed specific academic dress.

The association of colors with specific academic disciplines did not occur for some time and it was not until the 19th century in the U.S. that the representation of academic disciplines by colors was standardized. White represented arts and letters and was taken from the white fur that trimmed the Oxford and Cambridge B.A. hoods. Red, a traditional color of the church, represented theology. Green was assigned to medicine because of the color of medieval herbs. Olive was selected for pharmacy for similar reasons. Yellow or gold, because it represented wealth produced by scientific research, was selected for the sciences. Today there are 27 colors recognized for separate academic disciplines.

Although there remains great diversity in academic regalia in Europe and other countries, American colleges and universities have a common system, devised originally in the 1880s. In 1932, the American Council on Education published a code on academic costumes that, although updated, still exists.

Ironically, one of the most visible rituals associated with graduation – the act of moving the tassel on the mortarboard from right to left as the graduate receives his or her diploma – is not a universal rule. Some researchers speculate that changing the position of the tassel is a custom that has taken the place of hooding, which is a practice that some universities have abandoned.

At PSU, as at most U.S. universities, graduating students are advised that the cap should be worn with the deep part at the back of the head, the hair completely concealed in front, and the top level. The tassel’s color reflects the academic program that the student has taken. PSU students are advised to keep and the tassel over the right temple.

In addition to the cap and gown, PSU students graduating with honors also wear items that distinguish them. Undergraduate students who are graduating with the Scholastic Honors Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, or Cum Laude wear ribbons and medallions around the neck.

PSU undergraduate students who have participated in the Departmental Academic Honors Program and who are graduating with Departmental Academic Honors wear gold cords around the neck. Graduate students who are graduating with academic honors also wear gold cords.

According to the American Council on Education, the different academic disciplines are represented by the following colors on trimmings of doctors’ gowns, edging of hoods, and tassels of caps:

Agriculture - Maize
Arts, Letters, Humanities - White
Commerce, Accountancy, Business - Drab
Dentistry - Lilac
Economics - Copper
Education - Light Blue
Engineering - Orange
Fine Arts, including Architecture - Brown
Forestry - Russet
Journalism - Crimson
Law - Purple
Library Science - Lemon
Medicine - Green
Music - Pink
Nursing - Apricot
Occupational Therapy - Ink
Oratory (Speech) - Silver Gray
Pharmacy - Olive Green
Philosophy - Dark Blue
Physical Education - Sage Green
Public Administration, including Foreign Service - Peacock Blue
Public Health - Salmon Pink
Science - Golden Yellow
Social Work - Citron
Theology - Scarlet
Veterinary Science – Gray

—Pitt State—-