Whether you're graduating online or virtually, finishing college is a major achievement. You've been through the sleepless nights, mind-boggling exams, and thousand-word papers and now have the cap, gown, and diploma to show for it. As with most ceremonies, there are a few traditions that are associated with graduation, some of which are formalized and some which are more personal. Most traditions stem from customs established in the Middle Ages.
If you're wondering why we roll diplomas, wear graduation gowns, and toss our caps, let's look at some of the most common graduation traditions. You can integrate these traditions into your own graduation or the graduation of a loved one. And if they're not your cup of tea, there's nothing wrong with learning some fun college-related trivia that you can share with friends.
The Graduation Cap
The cap, also known as a mortarboard, stems from the biretta. The name might sound unfamiliar, but you’ve probably seen it before. A biretta is a square, upright cap with three or four peaks. It's worn by Roman Catholic clergy and academics, normally in red or black. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, students and artists would wear the biretta to showcase their superiority and intelligence. Originally, the mortarboard was only allowed to be worn by holders of masters or doctorate degrees. In the modern age, most graduates—whether they're earning their associates, bachelors, masters, or doctorate degree—wear the cap as part of their graduation ensemble.
The Graduation Gown
The rise of universities led to the popularity of the graduation robe as a form of everyday apparel, rather than a once-in-a-lifetime outfit. The original universities of the Middle Ages had poor heating. To keep warm, scholars would wear long gowns with hoods. Most of the scholars were also clerics. Since clothing in the twelfth century was expensive, they tended to stick to their clerical robes. By the time of Henry VIII, this style of dress was customary for scholars at Cambridge and Oxford. The schools dictated how their students would dress, and most preferred robes in a stark black. In the 1800s, a color system was developed. These colors designated a scholar's field of study. Today, you might see these colors integrated into the velvet edge on the robe.
Pomp and Circumstance
“Pomp and Circumstance” is one of the better-known graduation traditions. The tune, written by Sir Edward Elgar in 1901, was played at the coronation of King Edward VII. When Elgar received an honorary doctorate from Yale in 1905, “Pomp and Circumstance” was played to honor his musical accomplishments. Before long, it became a staple at graduation processionals and recessionals, not just in America, but worldwide.
The Class Ring
Another one of the most common graduation traditions is the class ring. The first appearance of the class ring was in 1935 when the US military academy West Point had them made. The rings at West Point were designed to represent the school, and each student wore a similar, if not identical, design. Eventually, the rings became customizable. Instead of representing the school, they're now designed to represent the individual graduate's interests and style. They come with a variety of options, including the size of the ring, the choice of metals, and the stone.
Have you ever heard a diploma referred to as sheepskin? The first diplomas were handwritten on paper-thin sheets of sheepskin, which were then rolled and tied with ribbon. This practice ended about 100 years ago when the paper material was switched to a thick, sturdy parchment and the size of diplomas was standardized. Diploma covers were invented to protect, store, and display the diploma. In some places, it's still customary for graduates to receive a rolled, ribbon-tied paper at graduation that represents the actual diploma that's mailed to them after commencement.
The color and design of a tassel can represent the school a graduate is receiving their diploma from, a specific role they held there, an organization they were a part of, and more. Tassels have been worn on graduation caps for centuries. A more recent development involves changing the positioning of the tassel on the cap. Before they accept their diploma, a graduate should wear their tassel on the right side of their cap. After walking off the stage, they move the tassel to the left. Moving the tassel symbolizes the movement from being a candidate of a degree to a recipient of a degree.
Tossing Your Cap
The tradition of tossing graduation caps was started by graduates of the US Naval Academy. Prior to 1912, graduates of the academy spent two years as midshipmen and needed to keep their midshipman's hats to wear once they began their careers in full. Starting in 1912, the academy decided to immediately commission the graduates as officers. The graduates would receive new officer hats after their graduation, meaning they no longer needed their old hats. After the commencement ceremony, the graduates tossed their midshipman's hats in the air. Before long, graduates of all kinds started tossing their caps in celebration of their transition from college life to a professional career.
Graduation Dinners and Parties
Most accomplishments and milestones are observed by holding a special celebration or meal in the individual's honor. Graduation is no exception. It's common for recent graduates to go out for dinner with their families, or for close relatives to plan a party that celebrates the person's academic achievements. Parties can be simple, elaborate, or somewhere in-between. At the party, guests will give the graduate advice, well-wishes, and even gifts. Common graduation presents include commemorative gifts, money, or practical, work-related items, such as a suit and tie, briefcase, or office supplies.
In the last year, graduation parties have shifted from in-person to online. This new format has its challenges, but it also offers a unique opportunity for families to try something new and forge their own personal graduation traditions.
If your loved one is graduating from a university, academy, or trade school, Crystal Central has the perfect crystal gifts to help you commemorate their academic achievements. Whether you're in need of police academy graduation gifts, retirement gifts, or anniversary gifts, come check out our wide selection of crystal plaques and awards. We have something to suit every occasion, no matter how unique.