The History of Graduation Cap, Gown, & Ceremony

It’s finally arrived! The event everyone in the family and all of your friends are eagerly awaiting… graduation!!

And with it, you can count on all of your out-of-town family members gathering for the event, eagerly awaiting the moment when they can witness the strange event of watching their loved ones wear strange square hats and robes march to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance”, all the while wearing unisex robes.

But just where did this bizarre ritual of passage begin? Here’s a look at the history of graduation.

The practice has been around almost as long as there have been universities. In fact, the first robes were worn in the poorly heated universities of the 12th century in Europe as a means to keep warm. And while the robes remain (technically now known as academic dress), the hoods have been replaced with those square hats, known as mortarboards.

According to those in the know, this strange square hat is derived from popular headpiece in the 14th and 15th centuries known as birettas. It was frequently used by learned clergies, artists, educated students, humanists and others as a sign of superior intelligence.

Because of its similarity to a tool bricklayers use to lay mortar (known as a hawk), the hat became known as a mortarboard, eventually evolving into its current form, complete with tassel.

The tassel is typically worn on one side or the other (which varies with different traditions), and is switched upon graduation.

The entire process is called a “commencement” to symbolize a new beginning, or moving from one stage to another. The Graduation March, or the use of the piece from Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 dates from around 1905, when the English composer was bestowed a Doctorate of Music from Yale University, and his music played during the ceremony.

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The piece impressed those in attendance so much it was shortly thereafter repeated at the graduation ceremonies of Princeton, Columbia, Vassar, Rutgers and many other prestigious institutions and today is synonymous with the graduation ceremony itself.

So while you and your friends and family are enjoying this year’s commencement event, you might want to take a moment and appreciate the history of graduation with the rich blend of the old and new traditions which have brought family and friends together for this special event.

Allcal can help you coordinate this special occurrence, by giving your family and friends a unique set of tools to schedule meeting places, coordinate events, and share last-minute changes easily and effortlessly.

So go ahead, get started using allcal today. You might just establish a new, rich tradition of your very own.

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