Dictionary.com

Congratulations Class of 2012!

Are you graduating this year? Or is your niece, brother, cousin, or aunt graduating? This is the season of academic achievement and celebration. We wanted to offer our congratulations to all of you (and your family and friends) who are graduating this year and commencing the rest of your careers.

In this season, we were also wondering, where do graduation traditions come from? Why are there weird hats and even weirder robes?

Many academic traditions originate in the Catholic Church. During the Middle Ages, the church was the sole institution of learning. The university, as we know it, started in the 1000s and 1100s in Europe, born from the monastic schools of the era. The word “university” is actually a back formation of the longer Latin phrase: universitas magistrorum et scolarium. What does that mean? It literally meant “community of masters and scholars”. It was shortened in the 1300s to “universitas” and became synonymous with institutions of higher learning.

Where do the crazy hats come from? The square cap that graduates wear is most likely modeled on the biretta, an Italian cap worn by Catholic clerics with four stiff corners. The biretta became standard for clergy in the 1300s and is still worn by Catholic cardinals. Today the secular equivalent that you see adorning the heads of graduates is called a mortarboard. The term was first used in English in the 1850s. Before that, “mortarboard” referred to a flat board that carried mortar, a paste-like material of sand, lime and water, which was hard when dried. The hats may have resembled mortarboards, so the name stuck.

The robes that students and faculty wear were modeled on priests’ traditional robes. Students once wore their robes to all classes and lectures (like Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts). Today robes are reserved for academic occasions, like graduations, but they still reflect particular academic achievements. For example, undergraduates will typically wear simple robes in the school color while doctoral candidates (and any Ph.D.s participating in the ceremony, like professors and deans) wear more elaborate robes with puffy sleeves and black hoods attached. Like military regalia, the cords and stoles worn by academics represent different achievements.

At many colleges, high-profile figures give a “commencement address”. Graduations are also called commencements because they are commencing (or beginning) their careers. The term commencement has referred to graduation festivities since the late 1300s – almost as long as the university itself.

Have you attended any graduations this year? What do you think of the academic traditions?

69 Comments

  1. Christy -  June 21, 2012 - 7:15 pm

    I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English this May. :) Yay!

    Reply
  2. Mackenzie -  June 20, 2012 - 2:40 pm

    mary torres lol :) and all the others except for bleue,

    YOU ARE NOT FIRST COMMENT!!!!!!!!

    My brother graduated high school last year, and my dance teacher’s son graduated this year.

    In the first paragraph of the article, what about sister? (Or is your niece, brother, cousin, or aunt graduating?

    Reply
  3. hinamori amu -  June 13, 2012 - 11:04 pm

    wow! this is so cool! shugoiee! i’m japanese!

    Reply
  4. Sara -  June 13, 2012 - 4:42 pm

    READ ME AND UR AN IDIOT yeah ur one wierd that human ppl like caps lock :P

    Reply
  5. Armaan Kheppar -  June 13, 2012 - 4:41 pm

    I am Awesome!!!

    Reply
  6. semaj jackson -  June 13, 2012 - 1:07 pm

    man you should’ve seen my grad. it was awsome i loved it

    Reply
  7. Hanna -  June 13, 2012 - 12:22 pm

    I’m graduating at Oxford Uni and I’m only 11!

    Reply
  8. SwaG -  June 13, 2012 - 11:48 am

    @coolkidcat: Your obviously using the thesaurus to find your “intelectual” vocabulary:)

    Reply
  9. Bob -  June 13, 2012 - 8:32 am

    Cool!

    Reply
  10. meany -  June 13, 2012 - 6:15 am

    this is hilarious!

    Reply
  11. pop got cat toungues -  June 13, 2012 - 2:02 am

    lol,haha.SO not funny
    yyyyyyaaaaaaaaaaaaaajjjjkkklop

    Reply
  12. Bryan Tri -  June 12, 2012 - 11:09 pm

    i love youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

    Reply
  13. First comment wooohooo -  June 12, 2012 - 6:33 pm

    first commenrt nope too bad its me not u nope i am first comment wow this is iawsome i just like to say thanks jonny thankyou pete thanks mommy i codnt do this without u xox OMG YES!!!

    Reply
  14. First comment wooohooo -  June 12, 2012 - 6:31 pm

    First comment woohooooooooo yeeewehaw cum ere ya indians yeeedawy

    Reply
  15. alllliiiii -  June 12, 2012 - 5:58 pm

    yah!!!! ( definitely not) FIRST COMMENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! whoo hooo!!
    warning:message will self destruct in 5…4…..3….2…

    Reply
  16. THEACTUALFIRSTCOMMENT -  June 12, 2012 - 4:02 pm

    I WOZ FIRST COMMENT :) :) :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):)

    Reply
  17. noneofurbueisness -  June 12, 2012 - 4:00 pm

    im i banana :) LAST COMMENT XD

    Reply
  18. purple -  June 12, 2012 - 3:44 pm

    awk..

    joking…very nice of you peeps who wrote this..

    thanks!

    Reply
  19. PJ -  June 12, 2012 - 12:31 pm

    @coolkidcat
    Perhaps your comprehension is compromised, because I believe that the 1st comment is indeed the “first comment.”

    Enjoy your day.

    Reply
  20. PJ -  June 12, 2012 - 12:28 pm

    @ coolkidcat

    I have copied and pasted your eloquent submission below. It’s ‘you’re’, not ‘your’, and ‘yourself’, not ‘your self’, as well as ‘their’, not ‘there’.

    Perhaps your first point should be, ’1) You’re not the first to comment, those who wrote the 1st, 2nd, and 6th comments.’

    As for the second commenter, whose spelling you criticize, dear Mary Torres is a frequent contributor to this blog, and English is her second language. What is your second language? Are you ‘pegged’ a graduate? Or is it still several years until you receive your high school diploma?

    Had you not been so rude and critical, and yet made some shocking errors yourself, I would have remained silent and kept my sarcasm to myself.

    “Love the comments but those who have graduated and keep saying they’re the first comment are pretty stupid.
    1) Your not the first comment you wrote the 1st, 2nd, and 6th comment.
    2) The person who wrote the 2nd comment cannot spell. You could have at least tried to put pride in your work.
    This is to those who did not spell correctly, use there grammar correctly, capitalize, and punctuate.
    If you call your self a graduate then you are really sorry and incompetent.
    You definitely don’t deserve to be pegged a graduate.”

    Reply
  21. Giovanni -  June 12, 2012 - 4:58 am

    @coolkidcat: Sorry, it doesn’t look like you’re the one to talk about spelling and grammar mistakes. Evaluate yourself before flaming others.

    Reply
  22. munmoona -  June 12, 2012 - 4:44 am

    people put rules and want everybody to follow them. Iam a free peron i can do what i want i can put fu.llstops wherever i want whenever i wnt .;,. damn the rules if im understood o not nlo big deal the world i collapsing

    Reply
  23. hi -  June 11, 2012 - 4:56 pm

    i’m not first comment but i am the 16. i think

    Reply
  24. theodosius -  June 11, 2012 - 4:48 pm

    Cool I Never Know About This! Lol (:

    Reply
  25. Lexa malik -  June 11, 2012 - 4:31 pm

    i thought they wold give me a crazy cool word that i can keep in my vocabulary but no they give me a friggen lecture about graduation caps.

    Reply
  26. Iyre -  June 11, 2012 - 12:11 pm

    OK guys, seriously? I hardly know how some of these comments can be beneficial to us. take comments #10, #11, and #12 for example. They are just clogging up the page, and its called spam, in case you didn’t know.

    Some of you don’t even deserve to be graduates…

    Reply
  27. ee33 -  June 11, 2012 - 10:51 am

    Congrats to everyone who graduated this year! (I’m not a graduate yet)

    And stop with the first comments everyone. There are at least 20+ comments on this page by now.

    Reply
  28. DiverseCitizen -  June 11, 2012 - 8:09 am

    This was really cool. I never knew EXACTLY why the robes appear how they do, but I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion the Catholics had a lot to do with shaping the Modern day World. Hm.

    Reply
  29. TheRealFirstComment -  June 11, 2012 - 3:01 am

    I have come to claim the title of first comment. It is my birthright, and I demand what is rightfully mine!

    Reply
  30. MyEyesROpen -  June 11, 2012 - 2:13 am

    :)

    Reply
  31. Lalit Sharma -  June 11, 2012 - 12:37 am

    cul cul cul

    Reply
  32. parkinston -  June 10, 2012 - 11:14 pm

    @HELEN Yes I think you’re mental shouting like that. I mean okay, those stuff you wrote, what’s this to do with the text? You should’ve went straight to the ‘thanks’

    @Dictionary.com;
    Wow, ace! This article real surprised me. Never thought about that! ;)

    -Marie Parkinston

    Reply
  33. Sandraaaa -  June 10, 2012 - 10:21 pm

    Interesting information, congrats c/o 2012 but move over because now its time for CLASS OF 2013 to control!!!!

    Reply
  34. coolkidcat -  June 10, 2012 - 12:54 pm

    Love the comments but those who have graduated and keep saying they’re the first comment are pretty stupid.
    1) Your not the first comment you wrote the 1st, 2nd, and 6th comment.
    2) The person who wrote the 2nd comment cannot spell. You could have at least tried to put pride in your work.
    This is to those who did not spell correctly, use there grammar correctly, capitalize, and punctuate.
    If you call your self a graduate then you are really sorry and incompetent.
    You definitely don’t deserve to be pegged a graduate.

    Reply
  35. rebby -  June 10, 2012 - 11:15 am

    lol

    Reply
  36. Noob -  June 10, 2012 - 6:58 am

    meow

    Reply
  37. Sherrisse -  June 9, 2012 - 9:29 pm

    The lawyers and judges and court clerks (Canada) also wear those robes

    Reply
  38. O-Sam-a -  June 9, 2012 - 8:05 pm

    cool :P

    Reply
  39. chitthu -  June 9, 2012 - 7:18 pm

    cool

    Reply
  40. abe -  June 9, 2012 - 4:20 pm

    cooooooooooooool!

    Reply
  41. jenna -  June 9, 2012 - 4:10 pm

    lol……cool?

    Reply
  42. kracymaty -  June 9, 2012 - 3:09 pm

    first comment! Cool article

    Reply
  43. Neil660 -  June 9, 2012 - 8:40 am

    Dear Dictionary.com,
    why aren’t you moderating these comments? Isn’t this a reputable site? I hardly see how “cool” and “yeah, first comment,” etc. are sparking the fires of ideas here. Come on, you’re the biggest (and best?) dictionary on the web. Please don’t entice me with the promise of “19 comments” when there are only 2 or 3 that should be posted. Sort it out.

    Reply
  44. k.g.parthasarathy -  June 9, 2012 - 3:14 am

    I never gave a thought abot the gowns, caps etc,. Your detailed explanation is a historical information for me.

    Reply
  45. Marie -  June 9, 2012 - 2:33 am

    cool…. :D

    Reply
  46. noor -  June 9, 2012 - 12:54 am

    verryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy cooooooooooooooooool!

    Reply
  47. shane white -  June 8, 2012 - 3:04 pm

    this is interesting since i will be graduating next year.

    Reply
  48. NOTfirstcomment -  June 8, 2012 - 2:05 pm

    I am not first comment. Three other people claimed that already

    Reply
  49. Me -  June 8, 2012 - 11:45 am

    NOTE: 3 people said they are first comment…

    Reply
  50. Me -  June 8, 2012 - 11:43 am

    6th comment!

    Reply
  51. Ajhay -  June 8, 2012 - 8:58 am

    heyy den its ma second commencement this year:)

    Reply
  52. bob voy -  June 8, 2012 - 8:45 am

    i love you all to

    Reply
  53. Cupcake -  June 7, 2012 - 9:18 pm

    [SIGH]……To many “I’m first” whores. Anyway, yes, this was a very interesting article. I always thought as much though, tbh, that the attire resembled that of catholic origin. But, anyways I’m just sad I didn’t get to where one this year(even though this was this year I graduated) because I’m home-schooled; I’ll just have to look forward to my university commencement in 2015…….

    Reply
  54. Emma Taylor McJoan -  June 7, 2012 - 5:12 pm

    Thank you!

    Reply
  55. Nobody -  June 7, 2012 - 4:52 pm

    Cool blog post!

    Reply
  56. ishtheswish -  June 7, 2012 - 3:09 pm

    yea, first comment

    Reply
  57. wafflez -  June 3, 2012 - 9:16 am

    Cool.

    Reply
  58. An Old Black Marble -  May 27, 2012 - 1:30 pm

    Interesting. I have always felt that the gown and cap had a bit of a priestly look to it, but I thought it was more influenced from court attire and judges. I guess their attires come from the priestly class as well thus the similarity. Very interesting.

    Reply
  59. GRADUATION | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  May 27, 2012 - 6:28 am

    [...] ‘Graduation’ future overlords — or slaves what is the view: — Accomplishing, Commencing — The ritual going through — to the end of some enduring process — beginning once again. — Dumping what’s stale or stagnant — moving forward still remembering the when — There was no opportunity for all — We can’t go back there again. –>>L.T.Rhyme [...]

    Reply
  60. mary torres lol :) -  May 26, 2012 - 1:21 pm

    lol im frist comment

    Reply
  61. bleue -  May 26, 2012 - 7:43 am

    first comment! woohoo!

    Reply

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