Sunday, May 16, 2010


This weekend was graduation. . . an event that takes YEARS to prepare for and no more than two hours to celebrate. Since beginning my teaching career 11 years ago, I haven't missed a graduation, and I actually don't mind them too much. For parents, grandparents, family members and friends, it's a pretty cool deal to see your loved one walk across that stage. For those of us who teach them. . . well, our feelings may fluctuate between bittersweet, heartwarming, celebratory, or just a load off our minds. (I did think more than once, "Thank goodness we got that one through high school!")

Anyway, in preparing for the graduation ceremony this year, I was asked on a number of occasions, "Why do we have to wear these silly hats?" Because I didn't actually know the reason I made up an answer that sounded historically-based and passed it off as knowledge that I really didn't have. (Most kids believe you, as long as the answer sounds somewhat intelligent.) So, in pondering this question and thinking to myself that I should know the answer, I have done a little research on all things involved with graduation. Here goes. . .

The "Cap" or "Mortarboard" is traditionally worn at all high school and college/university graduations across the United States. However, you probably will not be surprised to find out that the tradition dates back to (possibly) the 15th century in Europe. According to a number of sources, the mortarboard is so named because of its similarity in appearance to the "board" used by bricklayers to hold mortar. Scholars generally believe that the cap/mortarboard developed from the biretta, a similar-looking hat worn by Roman Catholic clergy and as an indicator of social status.

If you're REALLY interested in the history/origins of the mortarboard (and my meager attempt at educating you wasn't fulfilling), you can check out this link to an article from the Yale Alumni Magazine that I found online. It's actually pretty fascinating.

Some other "interesting" graduation and high school rite-of-passage tidbits you probably never cared to know:

1. The graduation ceremony may date back to scholastic monks in the 12th century.

2. Original diplomas were made of sheepskin.

3. The first class ring was designed for students at West Point in 1835.

4. Tassels are worn on the right until the end and then ceremoniously moved to the left as a sign of graduation.

5. Pomp and Circumstance (that good ol' grad music) was composed by Sir Edward Elgar, an Englishman, in a set of five marches between 1901 and 1930. The title is taken from Act III, Scene iii of Shakespeare's Othello: "Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!"

6. The academic hood (worn at graduations by those of us who have masters/doctorate degrees) can be traced back to the Celtic people and the Druid priests. In the Middle Ages, the academic hood was a sign of superior intelligence. (I'm not sure we can say that anymore.) The color of the hood's facing designates the type of degree (i.e. English = White), and the hood's lining refers to the institution where the student earned his/her degree.

And finally, I will always think back to my own high school graduation of June 5, 1994. Wearing my red graduation gown, I received my diploma from my dad (Superintendents have the privilege of being on stage--and the right to give their daughters their diplomas if they so desire), and then headed out into the "real world". . . to find myself right back in that high school environment about 4 years later. . .and right back on stage at 11 graduations, watching those elated graduates process right on out into the "real world" themselves.

Congratulations Graduates. And Good Luck!

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