Graduation: The Tradition

Heather Sandefur, Op/Ed Editor

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Graduation ceremonies (also known as commencement, convocation, invocation) have been passed to the U.S. from a plethora of traditions dating back to various centuries and origination from multiple cultures.  Modern graduation ceremonies as we now know them are an amalgam from European, Scandinavian, and Middle Eastern university traditions.  Graduation gowns are based on English wear, while the hats come from the Swedish heritage and the custom of giving and receiving the diploma is based in the Islam convention.

Graduation gowns were first used in 12th century Europe and were made the official attire of academics in the later half of the same year span.  At the time, the gowns were the daily dress of a Middle Age university’s staff.  Wearing this during a commencement ceremony is meant to symbolize graduates as scholars.

The use of caps became popular in the daily dress of staff in the 14th and 15th centuries.  Sweden brought it into style for graduation in the 18th century and it was later adopted in other European nations.  However, the traditional turning of the tassel from right to left after receiving a diploma (to symbolize not only the movement from candidate to graduate but moving into a new stage of life) has only been instituted for 4 or 5 decades; the tassel was originally decoration for the cap.  Hood used in graduation dress for masters and doctoral graduates are of Celtic origin.  Only Druid priests wore hoods as a symbol of their superior intelligence.  Today both caps and hoods are worn in graduation ceremonies for the same reason.

The concept of receiving a diploma (also known as a degree) has its origins in Islam.  The diploma itself gave a graduate their qualification to teach at a university based upon their education.  Now a degree doesn’t necessarily give a person qualification to teach; it gives someone the qualification to do their chosen occupation.

The concept of graduation has been in place for centuries.  Over the years, its meaning has held firm.  However, its origins have been forgotten, origins which add a deeper meaning.  The traditions of commencement come from various cultures and eras; some are still being added and improved as time passes.  Education induces understanding and understanding produces unity, a unity in which humanity grows and learns together.  Graduation, its traditions, and its origins symbolize everything education is.