Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dressed for Success: Caps & Gowns

T'is the season for graduation ceremonies. Around the country graduate candidates are putting on traditional regalia, listening to the wisdom of scholars before them, and celebrating with friends and family.

Personally, I think the outfits worn by graduates look at least a little out of place in modern society. It seems a bit silly to be wearing an over-sized robe and a hat that is essentially a square stuck to your head with a tassel that smacks you in the face everytime you turn to talk to someone. Of course, there are other traditional elements of academic regalia including hoods, cords, stoles, pins, and more that are applicable to different occasions and distinctions.

Academic dress, though it seems strange today has both a historical tradition and a modern purpose.
The program given out at my university’s graduation reads, “The wearing of caps, gowns, and hoods at college and university occasions dates back to the formation of universities in Europe, beginning around the 12th century. The ordinary dress of the scholar, whether student or teacher, as the dress of clerics, Historians suggest that gowns and hoods were the simplest and most effective method of staying warm in the unheated, stone buildings that housed medieval scholars.” Whatever the origin of traditional academic dress, today we still don caps and gowns for special occasions. People like tradition, doing what has done before them. By wearing clothes that are not everyday attire, we help give rituals such as graduation ceremonies the feel of being a very special occasion.

On a side note, personally, I do not like the common self-impressed nature of academic ceremonies, especially graduations. It should indeed be a celebration of the accomplishments of the graduates, but shouldn’t be taken quite so seriously. It seems to be the faculty and speakers not the graduates who may need to “lighten up.”

I think that graduation regalia is important and meaningful, but not to be taken too seriously. It is a bitter-sweet occasion marking the end of an academic career, but one that merits wearing a baggy robe and a silly hat.

American Council on Education: Academic Dress

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