Lyrics are at bottom of page.


Note: This was the first page giving the History of Graduation!
 I'm discovering several sites have now copied my information to create their own page, with one particular URL doing it word for word even.


History of Graduation
The Ceremony, The Ring, The Yearbook, The Diploma, The Music,
The Cap & Gown, Valedictorian and Baccalaureate.


If a Teddy Bear graduated from college, where and what would his/ her major be?
I thought perhaps "Import-Export" or "Marketing-Sales" .  Then...
I decided that a Teddy Bear would attend a Polyester University (Poly U)
rather than Poly Tech! And, I don't know Latin or I'd have come up with some
pun on Cum Laude or Valedictorian (open for suggestions). 
After reading the data on the significance of the gown colors, I chose
green. Although it represents "Medicine" I felt that polyester is  a
form of internal medicine to a Teddy Bear! (No disrespect to the real
field of medicine since I  faint at the sight of blood and have total
admiration for what they do!) This is the reason why the cartoon was made as it is.

Our Graduation Cartoons!
It's part of our Weekly Cartoons but it pertains to graduation also.
Here is a link to our cartoon called "Smart Bombs."
Embarrassed about your yearbook photo? Check this cartoon called "High School Photo."
  What's in your future? Fate or Up to You? Check out Fortune Teller.
Ever wonder what makes the valedictorian so smart? Check out Valedictorian Speech
Wondering how to find your hat after it's tossed in the air? Check out Graduation Tassel
Years after we look at our school photos and who do we think about? Check out School Pictures
Those who graduate at the top of their class need to thank all the little people who made that possible. Top of the Class
The Well-educated man? It all depends on "when" you went to school, not where.
Alumni Speech.  We never stop trying to impress our peers.
Sign Twirling.  We're all good at something.

A graduation ceremony is a cultural tradition termed as a rite of passage. What's that? It is a ritual  or ceremony that marks one stage of a person's life to another.  Marriage is the most commonly known and observed today." Rite of passage" was termed by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep in 1909 who believed 
that passage rituals had 3 steps:
 (1) Separation from Society
 (2) Inculcation-transformation; 
 (3) Return to Society in the new status.

All passage rituals fulfill certain universal functions:
 (1) Dramatize facing new responsibilities, opportunities and dangers.
 (2) Readjust the participant (and all in their social circle) to these changes.
 (3) They establish solidarity and sacredness of common values (or rituals?). 
Each culture either creates it's own rite of passage ceremony, or acquires one being handed-down (tradition) or both; and, will form a new ritual based on the current moment. The graduation ceremony dates back to the 12th century. Some feel it began with scholastic monks with their ceremonies in robes  and has evolved to fit the society in which it is celebrated  ever since.

The American Heritage dictionary defines this as:
(1) The degree of Bachelor conferred upon graduates of most U.S. colleges and universities.
(2) The farewell address delivered in the form of a sermon to the graduating class of a High School or College.

Legend states the Baccalaureate ceremony originated back to a statute dated 1432 at Oxford University, that required each bachelor to deliver a sermon in Latin as part of his academic exercise. Because the earliest universities in this country were founded primarily to educated ministers, the British practice of a Baccalaureate service continued. Today, the service is usually an interfaith one that celebrates the completion of an undergraduate academic career

In our modern times, the sermon doesn't have to be done by a religious person, but can be done by the dean or principal of the school, an invited guest (often famous or well-respected) or by the school valedictorian. (See below) The baccalaureate can be serious or light-hearted. In some cases, a time limit is set on the length of the speech, depending on the size of the graduation class. In other cases the weather is a big factor if the ceremony is held outdoors. ;)

The baccalaureate might be included in the graduation ceremony while for other schools it is a separate event that takes place before the commencement (a day or a few hours). 

 What's the difference between a commencement and a baccalaureate? 

The commencement is when the graduates are handed their diplomas and walk across the stage and flip the tassels on their hats upon receiving their degrees and handshake.  

The baccalaureate ceremony is considered the  highlight of the school year.. It is especially a time to formally recognize the achievements of  students who are in honor societies and who have earned academic excellence. In other words, it's for those who truly studied,  did not cheat or steal ideas off others and truly were honest and who did not settle for "status quo" grades but worked to be the best of what they could be. However, with some schools having two ceremonies is too expensive and a lot of work, so the baccalaureate is blending with the commencement (sometimes making it a long event).


I do have a Cap and Gown section below which is so complex that I couldn't go into all the details.  But when it comes to the baccalaureate, in *some* cases they are given symbolic hoods. The origin of hoods is said to go back to the Celts and their Druids. This might confuse people because a Druid is a Celtic Priest.  Celtic is a nationality and Priest is a part of that society. Just like you might have an Irish Priest in the US.  His nationality is Irish but his role in society is Priest.  


Now, within the Celtic groups, only the Druid priests wore capes with hoods to symbolize their superiority in the group.  The Druids were the priests where who were considered to  have superior knowledge of the sciences and nature.  (A comparison is like the Medicane Man.)  The Druid knew about herbs, astrology, etc. Thus the hood = superior intelligence.  The hood DID NOT represent a form of hiding faces (as some groups have used it for).  Later on,  this ceremony became part the Middle Ages when meaningful symbols were associated with the conferring of a degree. One of these symbols is the academic hood. The hood is presented during the baccalaureate ceremony. Originally worn as a head covering in the cold schools of the middle ages, the hood is now used to identify a graduate's academic institution and degree. 

The velvet color on the outer edge of the hood denotes the graduate's degree - -white for arts and letters, gold for science, and brown for fine arts. The combination of the institutional and departmental colors represents a scholar's academic achievement.

The shape and size of the hood and the sleeve design of the gown show the degree a student pursued: 

Bachelor's Degree gown has pointed sleeves and no hood.
Master's Degree gown has long, closed sleeves with arm slits and a narrow hood.
3. Doctor's Degree has bell-shaped sleeves and a draped, wide hood.

Hood's Lining and Facing Significance:

The color of the hood's lining tells which college or university the degree was given by. For example: Harvard is crimson, Temple is cherry and white, and Cornell is purple and white. However, other than the lining, the hood must be black.

The field of study is designated by the color of the hood's facing. 
A few examples:

   Theology = scarlet
   Arts Letters and Humanities = white
   Music = pink.


As another part of a sub-topic of the graduation ceremony itself, we should mention is the valedictorian.  This is the person who is considered the student with the highest scholastic standing. This may be determined by tests or by a voting of the student body or in some other fashion, depending on the school's customs.  The Valedictorian delivers a speech known as the "valediction" to his/her fellow classmates on behalf of them. It usually is a speech that expresses the ups and downs they've all gone through, and provides a youthful insight of a hopeful future. There have been times when the valedictorian has used this opportunity for his/her own political agenda, but for the most part it is a time to express to everyone dedication, commitment, honesty and perseverance are the needed ingredients to find their way in the world once they have been given an education.



The first class ring was developed in 1835 for West Point U.S. Academy.
In the early 1900's class rings came into fashion.  The first class rings were crude and were only a shank with a symbol (usually of the class pin which preceded the class ring by a few years) attached to the bezel of the ring. They quickly became popular and soon stones were added and more intricate dies allowing for greater details got developed. The basis of the class ring (and pin) goes  back to the Egyptians, who felt their scarabs rings promised them eternal life, they wore their seal & signet rings till death, and were buried with them (placed over their hearts). Roman soldiers felt their rings would bring them victory.  (In fact, some images on cameos were considered good luck amulets). A gold ring represented nobility only. So the commoner couldn't wear a gold ring until 500 BC when a law said that all Romans could wear gold if they wanted.  Wealthy Europeans would hire jewelers to design their own special ring. Queen Victoria had a serpent of emeralds on her wedding ring (and 6 doz. were duplicated and given to each of the ladies of the court.)  So a class ring (in Gold) represented wealth, success, and belonging to a special group. 

Today, class rings remain a popular tradition for high school and colleges.  Class rings  are seen as a combination of  showing school pride while being an outward symbol of the diploma (but much easier to display). With many people, they feel their class ring is a symbol of their entrance into the world of adulthood, a good luck charm or a show of worthiness of belonging to some group.  Although tradition holds that a class ring is worn on the right hand on the third finger (because the Knights felt it gave them double strength there and good luck), a class ring can be worn on any finger and sometimes on a chain around a neck.


Original diplomas were made of sheepskin.  This is where the slang " hang your sheepskin on the wall" came from.  It was a phrase to represent showing your education.  Diplomas were made from paper-thin sheepskin, hand-written, rolled and tied with a ribbon until 100 years ago. A lot of documents were done on animal skins because paper-making was difficult. They changed to parchment, which was more practical, when the paper making techniques improved. It wasn't until the turn of this century that diplomas stopped being rolled-up, but given out in leather binders. Rumor is because rolled-up diplomas were hard to frame.  (Some schools might still roll their diplomas?  I'm not informed on all the procedures for all the schools.) 

Here is a chronological chart of how the school yearbook has evolved.


Students fill blank pages of scrapbooks with newspaper clippings, personal notes, dried flowers, and hair.


Annuals are generally senior photographs only, but also have a scrapbook style from previous years.


First college yearbook"Profiles of Part of the Class Graduated at Yale College" published by Yale. It looks like an old photo album


"Signia" = the oldest surviving  college yearbook by the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy is published.


The first High School yearbook is published in Waterville, NY called "The Evergreen"


Posed photos & engraved illustrations appear but are expensive. Most books only feature the Seniors or Graduating Class

Modern yearbook is born! Why? Letterpress Process & halftone printing, making affordable, mass-produced books

High School yearbooks included school activities, teachers, etc. and become not just for seniors


Schools introduce yearbook sales campaigns.


Offset printing brings in photos of all sizes and more affordability. Now smaller schools have yearbooks!


Yearbook companies now send representatives to visit schools for sales.


The typical yearbook is published for $6


Yearbook staff gets more creative with sound art and design = more sophisticated books.


Yearbooks now used for education, public relations & student expression.


Large, dominated photos and 2-page spreads get popular due to "Look" and "Life" magazines.

Experimental books come such as unbound books in a box, covered with Levi Jeans, and one fashioned like crayola crayons.

Now show the experiences of all students (not just the IN crowd). Some experimenting with video yearbooks.

Schools begin using computers and desktop publishing to make their own yearbooks.

Books take a stronger journalistic style, covering news and issues to student life + fun memories.
2000's and on

What's Next? CD-Rom books are out for some schools. Everything on a flash drive? Download your yearbook? View it on a Kindle?
Who knows!

Oh that music! So who put that tune in our heads?  "Pomp and Circumstance" was composed by Sir Edward Elgar (June 2, 1857 - February 23, 1934) and first performed on October 19, 1901 in Liverpool, England.  Native-born in England, he got his musical education from his father (a music seller, violinist and organist for St. George's Roman Catholic Church), but for the most part is considered a self-taught composer.  Elgar composed concertos for the violin and cello, but is most famous for his 5 Pomp and Circumstance Marches.  He became "Sir" (knighted) in 1904 and appointed master of the king's music in 1924.  Elgar is the first major composer to record his works systematically for the phonograph.

Because so much American culture stems from our British roots, it is assumed that this is the reason the song "Pomp & Circumstance" became the standard march for graduation ceremonies.  It was passed down to us from English schools and universities.  However, music does change with the times.  Not every commencement exercise today uses Elgar's Pomp & Circumstance March.



I had no idea just how immense this subject is. For over 40 yrs. the graduation gown color was gray. In 1959, the American Council on Education had a Committee on Academic Costumes and Ceremonies review the costume code and make changes. In 1986, the committee changed the code to clarify the use of dark blue for a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). However, also in the 1950's, students began to wear gowns that were their school's colors.  According to Jostens survey...approximately 1 out of 10 students will graduate in a unique color. So rather than waste my website space (and my time retyping) I had a direct link to the American Council on Education - Their Academic Costume Code and Ceremony Guide. But it isn't there anymore. It was 14 pages when printed out. However, there is a basic rule that there be no corsages or jewelry on the robes. And that flat shoes are worn, by both men and women.

So how did it all begin?

Academic dress for graduations started in the 12th and 13th centuries when universities first began forming. Whether a student or a teacher, standard dress for scholars was clerical garb. Most medieval scholars had made certain vows, and had at least taken minor orders with the church so clerical robes were their main form of dress to begin with.

The style of the graduation hat has varied throughout the centuries.  But, the one that we are most familiar with today is the square, stiff hat that is believed to have been developed around the 16th century.  There remains debate, however, on why the graduation hat is square.  Back in the 16th century, a square hat was called a biretta, with a "mortar board" appearance to it and first becoming popular in Oxford University.  Because of this, many feel that the reason the hat is square was to represent the mortar board of a master workman. Others feel the meaning is obvious. It simply represents the shape of a book, and give a scholarly appearance to those who wore it on their heads. Others feel that it represented the shape of the Oxford campus. Whatever the reason, it seems to be the shape that has remained the most popular and acceptable through the years.

Back in 1321, the University of Coimbra declared that all Doctors, Bachelors, and Licentiates must  wear gowns.  Excessive in apparel was forbidden later on in the 14th century in some colleges and to create uniformity suggested everyone wear a long gown. By the time of England's Henry VIII, Oxford and Cambridge began using a standard form of academic dress, which was controlled to the tiniest detail by the university.

Because America was founded by immigrants from England, they brought many of their customs along with them.  So, the graduation cap and gown roots go back to England and as I mention above even farther into the Celts and Druids. 

Not until the late 1800s were colors assigned to signify certain areas of study, but they were only standardized in the United States. European institutions have always had diversity in their academic dress, but American institutions employ a definite system of dress thanks to Gardner Cotrell Leonard from Albany, New York. After designing gowns for his 1887 class at Williams College, he took an interest in the subject and published an article on academic dress in 1893. Soon after he was asked to work with an Intercollegiate Commission to form a system of academic apparel.

The system Gardner Cotrell Leonard helped form was based on gown cut, style and fabric; as well as designated colors to represent fields of study. For example green was the color of medieval herbs, and was assigned to medical studies, as I mention in the cartoon above = Doctors. 

Caps should only be made of black cotton poplin, broadcloth, rayon, or silk, to match gown they are to be used with. Only students receiving a doctor's degree may wear velvet. The graduation cap should be worn horizontally (don't tip it!) with the point in the center.

Tassels should be fastened to the middle of the cap's top and allowed to lie where it will. It should be black, or the color of field of study, unless it is for a doctor's degree in which case is may be gold.  Below is a listing of tassel colors:

Graduate School - black
Agriculture - maize
Consumer and Family Sciences - maroon
Education - light blue
Engineering (including Agricultural and Biological Engineering) - orange
Forestry - russet
Health Sciences - salmon pink
Liberal Arts (including Physical Education) - white
Management - peacock blue
Nursing - apricot
Pharmacy - olive green
Science - golden yellow
Technology - red
Veterinary Medicine - gray  


  How are tassels worn?

For High School graduation, and basic college graduations of a Bachelor's Degree, the tassels are first worn on the right, and then flipped to the left upon receiving the diploma or degree.  When do you flip?  Normally there is someone there to signal you. Some schools prefer to have the student flip right after the handshake upon receipt of the degree.  Others want them to flip their tassels just before walking off stage.  It all depends on your school's tradition or rules.

The exception:  If you are getting a Master's Degree, then the tassel starts on the left and is flipped to the right.

Also, the rule is that women keep their graduation hats on at all times.  The men are allowed to take the hats off during the singing of the National Anthem only!

  Tossing of Graduation Hats!

Well, not all hats can be tossed! :)  Cartoon by SpeedBump 9/3/2019

Many students toss their graduation hats into the air when the ceremony is over in celebration. With some schools, this is a tradition. So how do you find your hat afterwards? ;)

I suggest you take a piece of masking tape and with a Magic Marker write your name on the tape. Let it dry completely. (Magic Marker won't smear if your head sweats). Then stick that inside your hat so you can find it afterwards.  The tape comes off without making any damage to the hat.

  How Do Military Cadets Find Their Caps After They Toss Them in the Air at Graduation?

Even though the Annapolis Naval Academy was founded in 1845, the "cap toss" tradition didn't begin until 1912.  But, whether it's  Annapolis,  West Point or wherever, the tradition is the same: at the end of the graduation ceremonies, after the class is called to attention for the last time and the immortal words "You are dismissed" (WestPoint only. See below for the Annapolis tradition.) are said, the former cadets fling their caps in the air. {Sometimes hats are flung at sporting events too.}  So how are the hats retrieved?

The press and  relatives grab some.  But, do you know the majority of the caps are claimed by children in the audience?  Lieutenant Colonel James A. Burkholder, Commandant of Cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy, wrote that after most, but not all, of the graduates throw their hats in the air, "Children under 12 are allowed to scramble to get [the hats]. It becomes 'finders keepers. Keeping the children off the field prior to that moment is also a site to see. Thus, after graduation you will see children with their "treasures" and others without hats in all sorts of despair."

Inside the hats (they call them 'covers') is a letter of advice that each cadet writes.  They also include a sum of money in the hat that represents their graduating year.  So, the class of 2010 would leave $10 or perhaps $20.10 or something else along those lines.  The cadets also leave their addresses inside the hats so the child that gets it can write a thank you letter (or congratulations) to that cadet later on.

The children are from the Annapolis area.  They are either relatives or children of the families that sponsor these midshipman while they attend the Academy.  (These families usually let them eat and sleep at their homes on weekends, so they grow close to the cadets and the cadets grow close to them.) This is why there are a lot of children at the graduation ceremony, along with the adults.

Below is a photo of
a lucky little lad who caught a hat
at the Annapolis 2007 ceremony.


Could the cadets find their own caps if they really wanted to?  Perhaps. Inside the caps there is a pocket with a piece of cardboard in the inside lining, where the cadets write their names with a felt pen.  More often the ink has worn off. (This is why I said above to use a permanent marking pen!) The graduation classes are large.  They usually number a thousand or so at West Point, so the chances of someone finding his own hat are pretty slim to null there.  Most of the time, the cadet doesn't want his cap anyway.  Traditionally, the caps (aka 'covers') are worn while they are at the Naval Academy as midshipman.  Upon graduation from the Academy, they are no longer midshipman and thus get a new hat anyway to represent that they are now officers.

Is the hat tossing rehearsed or choreographed?  Answer: No!  It is a spontaneous gesture, that's repeated each year as a tradition.  Is it frowned upon? Do the superiors get angry because the cadets are throwing away hats?  Answer: Not really.  Al Konecny, Assistant Public Affairs Office at West Point said, "There is nothing wrong with the graduates tossing away a part of their uniform.  It's no longer their proper uniform anyway. They've just been promoted!"  (as in they're now officers!)

Source: "Why Do Clocks Run Clockwise? and Other Imponderables"
Mysteries of Everyday Life explained by David Feldman
Harper & Row Publishers © 1987


I received some additional insight from Mario F. Romagnoli, MD in regards to the
Annapolis Hat Toss Ceremony.

"Prior to 1912, graduating midshipmen served in the Navy at the rank of "Passed Midshipman" and wore their same uniform and cover (hat) that they wore while at the Academy, until some later time when they received their first promotion to Ensign. 

Starting with the Class of 1912, graduates were directly and immediately commissioned as Ensign, US Navy (hence graduation day is called "Commissioning Day") and no longer needed their midshipman's cover.  Thus, they threw them in the air in a joyous celebration of their new rank and station.

At Annapolis, the signal for this display is not "Dismissed!" 

Instead, the last official speaker is the president of the graduating class, who comes to the stage and shouts, "I propose three cheers for those we leave behind!  Hip hip (Hooray), Hip hip (Hooray), Hip hip (Hooray)!"  With the third exuberant "Hooray" from the graduating class, the caps fly into the air!"

Below is a photo of the May 25,  2007 Annapolis Hat Toss.
Those in dark uniforms have just been commissioned as
 2nd Lieutenants in the Marine Corps.

Annapolis Graduation Information

Note: I've also received an email from a cadet  who informed that if a graduating cadet is sentimental and wants to keep the hat and brass they have worn for four years, he or she will usually go and buy a new one just to wear on graduation day and toss it. This is a lot like some brides who buy a separate bouquet to toss to the single women guests and keep the one that they walked down the isle with and used in the photos.


The Sneeze

They walked in tandem, each of the ninety-two students filing into the already crowded auditorium.  With their rich maroon gowns flowing and the traditional caps, they looked almost as grown up as they felt.  Dads swallowed hard behind broad smiles.  Moms freely brushed away tears.

The class would NOT pray during the commencements, not by choice, but because of a recent court ruling prohibiting it.

The principal and several students were careful to stay within the guidelines allowed by this ruling.  They gave inspirational and challenging speeches, but no one mentioned Divine Guidance and no one asked for blessings on the graduates or their families.  The speeches were nice, but they were routine until the final speech.

A solitary student walked proudly to the microphone.  He stood still and silent for just a moment.  And then, it happened.

All 92 students, every single on of them suddenly SNEEZED!!

The student on stage simply looked at the audience and said,
"GOD BLESS YOU!"  And he walked off stage......
The audience exploded into applause.

This graduating class had found a unique way to invoke God's blessing on their future with or without the court's approval.

Author Unknown




Graduation ceremonies can be a solemn occasion or time for celebration.
 Some students really care about their graduation night and it's memories. Others could care less and can't wait to exit school and go on.
  Some return regularly to class reunions. Others never attend.

 Many successful people today say they had a hard time in school.
  Others say they were class presidents and cheerleaders and thus popular

School memories are cherished by some and forgotten by others.
It's the best of times or the worst of times.
Just don't quit.


Check out some of our graduation products in our Zazzle store.

Free Printable Watercolor Graduation Cards! Page 5

This is part of our Watercolor Cards section.


This is our website section where we are grouping all pages that pertain to school, teachers and anything of educational humor.

Has a graduation section!

This is our newest website section. Since many of you find it hard to write something with a graduation gift or as a thank-you for one (mostly because you usually hardly know the person?)
 I'm giving a link to this page here.

Our Midi is "Graduation Day" by The Beach Boys in 1965?
For those who want to sing along here are the lyrics.  Refresh page to get music to start again if you shut it off.

. There's a time a for joy,
 A time for tears,
 A time we'll treasure through the years.
 We'll remember always 
Graduation Day.
At the senior prom,
We danced 'til three.
And there you gave
 your heart to me.
 We'll remember always
 Graduation Day.
 Though we leave in sorrow,
All the joys we've known .
We can face tomorrow 
Knowing we'll never walk alone. 
When the ivy walls, 
Are far behind.
 No matter where
 our paths may wind.
 We'll remember always
 Graduation day. 
Though we leave in sorrow,
All the joys we've known .
We can face tomorrow 
Knowing we'll never walk alone. 
When the ivy walls, 
Are far behind.
 No matter where
 our paths may wind.
 We'll remember always, always
 Graduation day. 

We'll remember always
 Graduation day!

Information Sources = Encyclopedia Britannica (on CD Rom)
Copyright 1992 Groller Electronic Publishing

Jostens, Inc. 
American Council on Education



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