Did you ever wonder why graduates wear caps and gowns, or why we call a diploma a "sheepskin"?
There are so many traditions in graduation ceremonies that we take for granted without knowing how or why they originated. So while you're holding your graduation gonfalon walking to recieve your diploma this spring we've put together some interesting food for thought. Here's a breakdown of the curious and different traditions and history behind the modern graduation ceremony. 


A Musical Tradition is Born

Every high school and college student in the U.S. files in to receive their diploma to the strains of what we know as "Pomp and Circumstance". In reality, the "song" is just a small piece of Sir Edward Elgar's composition of 1901, entitled "March No. 1 in D Major" (Doesn't sound quite as catchy, does it?). The first time it was played in America was at Yale's 1905 graduation ceremony when the school invited Sir Edward Elgar to that year's commencement to receive an honorary degree. The New Haven Symphony Orchestra played the piece, as well as parts of his other compositions, in his honor as the graduating class marched in. Turns out, folks enjoyed that particular tune so much that it spread to other college ceremonies (i.e. Princeton, Chicago, Columbia, Vassar and Rutgers) through the rest of the decade, eventually becoming the standard for all graduation ceremonies.


See Graduation Gonfalon Gallery


The Cap and Gown: A Graduate's Official Uniform

Where on earth did the whole cap and gown tradition start -- and when? Believe it or not, the tradition  goes back literally thousands of years and to another continent. Caps and gowns originated in the 13th and 14th centuries in Europe, when universities began forming throughout the continent. But it wasn't until the late 1800s that England began designating different colors for different fields of study. The gowns symbolized the title of scholar, and Oxford and Cambridge are two of the few universities around the globe that to this day have their professors wear gowns in the classroom to signify their academic status.

The graduation cap (a.k.a. the "mortar board") got its nickname because it reminded people of the tool masons use to spread mortar! The tassel was added in the 1800s. Protocol dictates that the tassel be worn on the right side of the cap until the graduating student has his diploma in-hand. Then, and only then, the student may flip the tassel over to the left side. The hat toss is said to symbolize the student being free to "take flight in the world", by some accounts. But the tradition is actually believed to have started for a more practical reason by Naval Academy graduates on 1912. For the first time that year, the Navy gave graduates their new officer's caps at the graduation ceremony. Since they no longer needed the midshipman's caps they'd been wearing for four years at the academy, they tossed them into the air and donned their new officer's caps instead.


*Commencement at Lesley with a custom large format graduation banner


The Original Diploma

You may have guessed that the reason we call diplomas "sheepskins" is because the first diplomas were actually printed on the skin of a sheep -- which is, essentially, parchment paper. (Parchment paper can be made from the skin of a sheep, a goat or a calf.)


The Class Ring

Another American tradition, the class ring, was also originally conceived by the U.S. military in 1835 at West Point. The first class rings were plain, but soon morphed into the heavy ring with a stone center that we know today. Seniors and graduates wear class rings to show both school pride as well as a sense of accomplishment.

So now you're armed with plenty of graduation trivia that you can pass on to your own children when their time to graduate high school or college comes! Contact us for information about school banners or flags to show your school pride. We're happy to put together a custom quote for graduation banners, commencement gonfalons, or any other custom banners for graduation you might need. 


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