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Academic Ceremony Guide

December 30, 1899

 

In response to numerous requests from institutions, the Committee on Academic Costumes and Ceremonies in 1959 prepared the following academic ceremony guide.
 
Many factors, such as the nature of the institution, the size of the graduating class, the weather, and the place of the ceremony (indoors or outdoors), affect the details of the various kinds of academic ceremonies. Institutions have wide latitude in meeting these conditions. It is therefore recognized that the following suggestions do not answer all pertinent questions concerning any specific ceremony.

Wearing the Costume

Caps
Those wearing academic costumes always wear their caps in academic processions and during the ceremony of conferring degrees. Men may remove caps during prayer, the playing of the national anthem and the alma mater, and at other specified times, e.g., during the baccalaureate sermon or the commencement address. It is traditional that all such actions be done in unison. Hence, the plan for each ceremony should be carefully prepared in advance. The participants should be notified beforehand and someone (usually the presiding officer) should be designated to give the cues for removing and replacing the caps.
 
There is no general rule for the position of the tassel on a mortarboard. However, numerous institutions have adopted the practice, during commencement exercises, of requiring candidates for degrees to wear the tassels on the right front side before degrees are conferred and to shift them to the left at the moment when degrees are awarded to them. This custom is, in some respects, a substitute for individual hooding.
 
Gowns
At ceremonies where degrees are conferred, it is proper for a candidate to wear the gown in keeping with the degree to be received.
 
Hoods
If a person holds more than one academic degree, he or she may wear only one hood at a time. The hood worn should be appropriate to the gown.
 
The traditional rule is that a candidate for a degree should not wear the hood of that degree until it is actually conferred. This rule still applies to those who are to be individually hooded during the commencement ceremony; they should not wear the hoods in the preliminary academic procession.

However, when degrees are to be conferred en masse, without individual hooding, the groups involved, e.g., master's degree candidates at large universities, may wear their hoods in the preliminary procession and throughout the ceremony.

Many institutions have dispensed entirely with bachelors' hoods. It is quite appropriate for the bachelor's gown to be worn without a hood.
 

Academic Procession in General

There is wide variation in customs concerning academic processions. In some institutions, the procession is led by a mace bearer, in others by the chief marshal. Either may be followed by a color guard. On some occasions the colors are displayed on the stage and are not moved during the ceremony. At some institutions there are more divisions in the procession than are indicated below, e.g., church dignitaries. Such groups have traditional places in the procession, determined by the individual institution.
 

Commencement Exercises

The Preliminary Procession
The commencement procession is usually composed of the following divisions:
  • the speakers, trustees, administrative officers, and other members of the platform party
  • the faculty
  • candidates for degrees, with candidates for advanced degrees in the lead and others in groups according to the degrees for which they are candidates.
The divisions may march in the above order, or in reverse order. If the latter procedure is chosen, the candidates for degrees after reaching their seats, face toward the center aisle as a mark of respect while the faculty and trustees proceed to their places.
 
The Commencement Ceremony
The essential elements of the ceremony are the conferring of degrees and the commencement . Earned degrees are usually conferred in ascending order, with baccalaureate degrees first and doctorates last. Honorary degrees are conferred, with individual citations, after the earned degrees. At some institutions, this order is reversed, with baccalaureate degrees conferred last.
 
The Subsequent Procession
The platform party and faculty leave the hall in that order. Recipients of degrees may be required to join the procession or may be permitted to disperse from their seats when the first two divisions have left the hall.
 

The Baccalaureate Service

The preliminary procession for the baccalaureate service differs from that for commencement exercises in the following main respects:
  • the platform party, faculty, and degree candidates most frequently march in that order
  • candidates for degrees are not required to march in a special order determined by degrees to be conferred.
 

Inauguration Exercises

 
The Preliminary Procession
When a president or chancellor of a college or university is to be inaugurated, it is traditional for the academic procession to include at least the following divisions in the following order:
  • delegates of colleges and universities arranged according to the dates when the respective institutions were founded
  • delegates of learned societies and associations
  • the faculty
  • the trustees
  • the speakers and other dignitaries in the president's party, with the person to be inaugurated marching alone at the very end of the procession.

The Ceremony
The essential components of the ceremony are the installation, usually by the chair of the board of trustees, and the inaugural address by the new head of the institution.  Additional addresses preceding the inaugural address may be made by representatives of governments, churches, other institutions, alumni, etc., as appropriate.
 
The Subsequent Procession
The newly inaugurated president or chancellor leads the procession from the hall, followed by the five divisions listed above, in reverse order.

by Eugene Sullivan, American Council on Education, reprinted with permission from American Universities and Colleges, 15th Edition, ©1997 Walter de Gruyter, Inc.

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