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Graduate toward higher revenue — the history of that special day

As area college and high school seniors prepare to graduate, the traditions of the graduation ceremony that have existed for generations will be put into practice yet again. But what are the origins of all these traditions?

A graduation ceremony is a tradition termed as a rite of passage. The baccalaureate ceremony originates back to 1432 at Oxford University. Early commencement ceremonies were more about hearing from the students themselves. Those graduating were required to deliver orations in Latin as part of an academic exercise.

grad1 However, over time oratory began to lose its place and their students’ displays of knowledge became a smaller part of the commencement exercises. Guest speakers filled the gap. Though, early commencement speakers tended to be from the university or political leaders, not cultural figures. It’s not clear which university started the trend of tapping celebrities to speak at graduations, but over the last few decades, their numbers have grown from a few fun speakers among university officials to the flood of actors, businesspeople, and writers who headline today’s ceremonies.

In the 18th century, American universities adopted their regalia from England’s academic commencement rituals, but no one knows precisely where this strange costume got its start. Some historians speculate that medieval scholars wore gowns to keep warm in the monasteries and libraries. They believe the significance of the hood dates to Celtic groups in which only Druid priests earned the distinction of wearing a hood on their capes to symbolize their higher intelligence and superiority. In the late 1800s, the gowns were worn for two reasons: to symbolize they were scholars and for religious status. Colors were assigned to signify certain areas of study.

The tradition of awarding graduates a diploma originated at Harvard College. Harvard’s first commencement took place on September 23, 1642. It wasn’t until 1813 that Harvard College graduates received a uniformly sized diploma they could keep. The first diplomas were made from paper-thin sheepskin, handwritten with ink, rolled and tied with a ribbon. This tradition continued until 100 years ago when diplomas began to be printed on parchment.

At most high schools and universities, the tassels are first worn on the right of the cap and then flipped to the left upon receiving the diploma or degree to signify moving on from one stage of life to the next. Most graduates flip the tassel after the receipt of the degree; others may flip the tassel before walking off the stage. When you attend a high school or college graduation ceremony this month, take note of all the traditions – new and old designed to celebrate a new chapter in a graduate’s life.

Melissa Jones is an experienced mass market and e-commerce buyer with over 15 years in the floriculture industry.

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