University commencements are exciting celebrations of student achievement, and they also provide faculty, students, and their families a visible connection to the birth of the modern university way back in the 12th century.
The black robes worn by graduating students and their faculty are known as academic “regalia,” and while undergraduate graduation robes may all seem the same, at the graduate level regalia tell a rich story of the graduate’s academic journey. That is, they do if you know what to look for!
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Master’s regalia meaning
At the master’s level, regalia consists of a simple black gown. What distinguishes a master’s level gown from a baccalaureate gown are the sleeves. Master’s level gowns usually have long, extended sleeves. Historically, those sleeves could have been used as pockets.
The headgear for the master’s regalia is traditionally the square mortarboard cap. (Graduates wear the mortarboard only at the full University commencement, as they get in the way of the College hooding ceremony.) At University commencement, wear the mortarboard tassel on the right. After your degree is conferred, move the tassel to the left.
The master’s hood is a modern interpretation of the hooded robes worn by medieval monks who taught in the early universities. The monks would use their hoods to keep warm in the winters and also to collect alms. The master’s hood is 3.5 feet long and features a three-inch velvet trim that indicates the graduate’s academic discipline. The inside of the hood, displayed on the graduate’s back, shows the colors of the school from which the student graduated.
Master’s hood colors
Master’s students at the College of Graduate and Professional Studies receive hoods with UNE blue and silver on the inside, and the following colors on the outside:
At the doctoral level, regalia consists of a more elaborate gown with a five-inch velvet panel down the front and three velvet bars on each sleeve. The velvet trim on a doctoral gown indicates the degree and academic discipline of the graduate. Some schools choose a color other than black for their doctoral regalia. Harvard University’s doctoral robes, for instance, are the school’s trademark crimson color.
Doctoral regalia colors
Graduates of UNE’s Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program wear black gowns with light blue velvet, showing their connection to the field of education.
Doctoral regalia with navy blue or black velvet trim indicates that the wearer has earned a Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. Other colors of trim indicate other academic disciplines. At University commencement, you may see regalia with lilac trim (Doctorate of Dental Medicine), Olive Green (Pharmacy Doctorate), or Kelly Green (Medical or Osteopathic Doctorate).
The doctoral hood, like the master’s hood, features the colors of the graduate’s university on the inside and the color of the academic discipline on the outside.
The doctoral headgear is traditionally the soft tam. Some tams have four corners and look like floppy mortarboards. Others have six corners. The style of tam is determined by the school from which one graduates.
Fun fact: most doctoral tams have the tassel sewn to the fabric of the hat. Instead of moving the tassel from right to left, you turn the entire tam so that the tassel “moves” to the left side!
You may also see graduates at commencement wearing stoles or cords. These indicate that the wearer is a member of an honor society, or has earned honors in other ways. Veterans or active duty students in the US military, for instance, have their service recognized with a red, white, and blue cord.
In the same way that the regalia robes and hoods are historical descendants of the clothing of medieval monks, cords were used in the Catholic and Anglican churches to distinguish between the varying ranks of the clergy.
In 2019, CGPS introduced the silver service cord for Public Health graduates. These students have earned honors by engaging in service activities. If you see a graduate with a silver service cord, ask them about their service experiences. They’ve done some amazing things!
Determining the meanings of different pieces of academic regalia
Commencement may look like a sea of more-or-less uniform black gowns, but with a sharp eye, you can tell where the graduate earned their degree, what degree they earned, what honors they earned during their degree, and in what field they earned their degree.
That’s not bad for an outfit that’s more than 900 years old!
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