A graduation ceremony is a cultural tradition termed as a rite of passage. It is a ritual or ceremony that marks one stage of a person's life to another. "Rite of
passage" was termed by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep in 1909 who
believed that passage rituals had 3 steps:
(1) Separation from Society
(3) Return to Society in the new status.
All passage rituals fulfill certain universal functions :
(1) Dramatize facing new responsibilities, opportunities and dangers.
(2) Readjust the participant (and all in their social circle) to these changes.
(3) They establish solidarity and sacredness of common values or rituals.
Each culture either creates it's own rite of passage ceremony, or acquires one being handed-down (tradition) or both; and, will form a new ritual based on the current moment. The graduation ceremony dates back to the 12th century. Some feel it began with scholastic monks with their ceremonies in robes and has evolved to fit the society in which it is celebrated ever since.
The American Heritage dictionary defines this as:
(1) The degree of Bachelor conferred upon graduates of most U.S. colleges and universities.
(2) The farewell address delivered in the form of a sermon to the graduating class of a High School or College.
The baccalaureate ceremony is considered the highlight of the school year. It is especially a time to formally recognize the achievements of students who are in honor societies and who have earned academic excellence. In other words, it's for those who truly studied, did not cheat or steal ideas off others and truly were honest and who did not settle for "status quo" grades but worked to be the best of what they could be. The commencement is when the graduates are handed their diplomas and walk across the stage and flip the tassels on their hats upon receiving their degrees and handshake.
Legend states the Baccalaureate ceremony originated back to a statute dated 1432 at Oxford University, that required each bachelor to deliver a sermon in Latin as part of his academic exercise. Because the earliest universities in this country were founded primarily to educated ministers, the British practice of a Baccalaureate service continued. Today, the service is usually an interfaith one that celebrates the completion of an undergraduate academic career
In our modern times, the sermon doesn't have to be done by a religious person, but can be done by the dean or principal of the school, an invited guest often famous or well-respected or by the school valedictorian. In some cases, a time limit is set on the length of the speech, depending on the size of the graduation class. The baccalaureate might be included in the graduation ceremony while for other schools it is a separate event that takes place before the commencement (a day or a few hours). However, with some schools having two ceremonies is too expensive and a lot of work, so the baccalaureate is blending with the commencement sometimes making it a long event.
As another part of a sub-topic of the graduation ceremony itself, we should mention is the valedictorian. This is the person who is considered the student with the highest scholastic standing. This may be determined by tests or by a voting of the student body or in some other fashion, depending on the school's customs. The Valedictorian delivers a speech known as the "valediction" to his/her fellow classmates on behalf of them. It usually is a speech that expresses the ups and downs they've all gone through, and provides a youthful insight of a hopeful future. There have been times when the valedictorian has used this opportunity for his/her own political agenda, but for the most part it is a time to express to everyone dedication, commitment, honesty and perseverance are the needed ingredients to find their way in the world once they have been given an education.
But when it comes to the baccalaureate, in some cases they are given symbolic hoods. The origin of hoods is said to go back to the Celts and their Druids. Now, within the Celtic groups, only the Druid priests wore capes with hoods to symbolize their superiority in the group. The Druids were the priests where who were considered to have superior knowledge of the sciences and nature. The Druid knew about herbs, astrology, etc. Thus the hood = superior intelligence. Later on, this ceremony became part the Middle Ages when meaningful symbols were associated with the conferring of a degree. One of these symbols is the academic hood. The hood is presented during the baccalaureate ceremony. Originally worn as a head covering in the cold schools of the middle ages, the hood is now used to identify a graduate's academic institution and degree.
The velvet color on the outer edge of the hood denotes the graduate's degree - -white for arts and letters, gold for science, and brown for fine arts. The combination of the institutional and departmental colors represents a scholar's academic achievement. The shape and size of the hood and the sleeve design of the gown show the degree a student pursued.
The first class ring was developed in 1835 for West Point U.S. Academy.
In the early 1900's class rings came into fashion. The first class rings were crude and were only a shank with a symbol (usually of the class pin which preceded the class ring by a few years) attached to the bezel of the ring. They quickly became popular and soon stones were added and more intricate dies allowing for greater details got developed. The basis of the class ring (and pin) goes back to the Egyptians, who felt their scarabs rings promised them eternal life,they wore their seal signet rings till death, and were buried with them (placed over their hearts). Roman soldiers felt their rings would bring them victory. A gold ring represented nobility only. So the commoner couldn't wear a gold ring until 500 BC when a law said that all Romans could wear gold if they wanted. Wealthy Europeans would hire jewelers to design their own special ring. Queen Victoria had a serpent of emeralds on her wedding ring (and 6 doz. were duplicated and given to each of the ladies of the court.) So a class ring (in Gold) represented wealth, success, and belonging to a special group.
Today, class rings remain a popular tradition for high school and colleges. Class rings are seen as a combination of showing school pride while being an outward symbol of the diploma (but much easier to display). With many people, they feel their class ring is a symbol of their entrance into the world of adulthood, a good luck charm or a show of worthiness of belonging to some group. Although tradition holds that a class ring is worn on the right hand on the third finger (because the Knights felt it gave them double strength there and good luck), a class ring can be worn on any finger and sometimes on a chain around a neck.
Original diplomas were made of sheepskin. Diplomas were made from paper-thin sheepskin, hand-written, rolled and tied with a ribbon until 100 years ago. A lot of documents were done on animal skins because paper-making was difficult. They changed to parchment, which was more practical, when the paper making techniques improved. It wasn't until the turn of this century that diplomas stopped being rolled-up, but given out in leather binders. Rumor is because rolled-up diplomas were hard to frame.
"Pomp and Circumstance" was composed by Sir Edward Elgar (June 2, 1857 - February 23, 1934) and first performed on October 19, 1901 in Liverpool, England. Native-born in England, he got his musical education from his father (a music seller, violinist and organist for St. George's Roman Catholic Church), but for the most part is considered a self-taught composer. Elgar composed concertos for the violin and cello, but is most famous for his 5 Pomp and Circumstance Marches. He became "Sir" (knighted) in 1904 and appointed master of the king's music in 1924. Elgar is the first major composer to record his works systematically for the phonograph. Because so much American culture stems from our British roots, it is assumed that this is the reason the song "Pomp Circumstance" became the standard march for graduation ceremonies. It was passed down to us from English schools and universities. However, music does change with the times. Not every commencement exercise today uses Elgar's Pomp Circumstance March.
Cap & Gown
For over 40 yrs. the graduation gown color was gray. In 1959, the American Council on Education had a Committee on Academic Costumes and Ceremonies review the costume code and make changes. In 1986, the committee changed the code to clarify the use of dark blue for a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). However, also in the 1950's, students began to wear gowns that were their school's colors. However, there is a basic rule that there be no corsages or jewelry on the robes. And that flat shoes are worn, by both men and women.
Academic dress for graduations started in the 12th and 13th centuries when universities first began forming. Whether a student or a teacher, standard dress for scholars was clerical garb. Most medieval scholars had made certain vows, and had at least taken minor orders with the church so clerical robes were their main form of dress to begin with. Back in 1321, the University of Coimbra declared that all Doctors, Bachelors, and Licentiates must wear gowns. Excessive in apparel was forbidden later on in the 14th century in some colleges and to create uniformity suggested everyone wear a long gown. By the time of England's Henry VIII, Oxford and Cambridge began using a standard form of academic dress, which was controlled to the tiniest detail by the university.
Because America was founded by immigrants from England, they brought many of their customs along with them. So, the graduation cap and gown roots go back to England. Not until the late 1800s were colors assigned to signify certain areas of study, but they were only standardized in the United States. European institutions have always had diversity in their academic dress, but American institutions employ a definite system of dress thanks to Gardner Cotrell Leonard from Albany, New York. After designing gowns for his 1887 class at Williams College, he took an interest in the subject and published an article on academic dress in 1893. Soon after he was asked to work with an Intercollegiate Commission to form a system of academic apparel.
The system Gardner Cotrell Leonard helped form was based on gown cut, style and fabric; as well as designated colors to represent fields of study. Caps should only be made of black cotton poplin, broadcloth, rayon, or silk, to match gown they are to be used with. Only students receiving a doctor's degree may wear velvet. The graduation cap should be worn horizontally with the point in the center. Tassels should be fastened to the middle of the cap's top and allowed to lie where it will.