This weekend, many high schools and colleges across the country will be reading names from endless lists of graduates as they are called to cross a stage and receive their diplomas. There are many traditions that have resulted and been long standing after the commencement exercises are over… like moving your tassel from left to right, tossing your cap in the air, and jumping into the San Marcos River.
You might wonder how some of these traditions got started… well, here’s the scoop on some of the more common traditions.
Why do the graduates march in/out of the ceremony to Pomp and Circumstance?
In 1905, Sir Edward Elgar was invited to Yale’s commencement to receive an honorary doctorate degree. To honor their guest, Yale had the New Haven Symphony Orchestra play parts of his 1901 composition (Pomp and Circumstance Military March from March No. 1 in D Major). It was enjoyed so much, that it quickly spread to other graduations and has been a long-standing tradition.
Why do graduates wear cap and gowns?
The use of cap and gowns began in the 12th century because heating systems in universities were nonexistent. Graduates wore long robes with hoods simply to stay warm during their ceremonies. Later on in the same century, gowns were made the official attire for academics.
Why do students decorate the tops of their caps?
Graduating students decorate the tops of their caps with special messages, achievements or mantras to signify their milestone. They also decorate them so that family members can identify them easily from their observation seats.
Why do graduates turn the tassel?
The use of the tassel is only 40 or 50 years old. It was originally used a decoration but has come to have much symbolism. The gesture of moving the tassel from left to right symbolizes one’s achievement of moving from candidate to graduate.
Why do graduates throw their caps in the air?
It is believed that tossing your cap “up to the heavens” started in 1912 at the U. S. Naval Academy’s graduation. This was the first time the newly commissioned officers received their officers’ hats at the actual graduation ceremony and no longer needed their midshipmen’s caps they’d worn for the last four years. To celebrate, they threw their old headgear in the air.
Why do we call diplomas “sheepskins?”
Originally, diplomas were written on actual sheepskin because early paper was very fragile and very difficult to make. But parchment, made from the skin of a sheep, goat or calf, was abundant and durable. Its ability to exist for a long time without significant deterioration made it ideal for a diploma.
Universities all across the country have their very own traditions like hoop rolling, watch dropping and lighting the torch. But Texas State University has been dipping into the San Marcos River after commencement exercises since… well, I don’t know… apparently not too long. One article I read from The University Star dated the tradition back to Southwest Texas State University which would have been prior to 2003. I spoke to a 1986 graduate from SWTSU and he said the river jump was not a thing. My best guess is that this tradition started sometime between 1987 and 2003.
Nonetheless, traditions are important because they lend a sense of belonging to something. They represent a critical piece to a culture; they form structure and foundation to our society. Traditions help to bring people together and feel connected. They reinforce values and celebrate things that matter in life. Graduation traditions are no different. They are a vital avenue to pass values, morals, custom and culture from one generation to the next.
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