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Graduation Traditions

Graduation season! A time to remind us all that “where did the time go” isn’t just something that your Grandma says every Thanksgiving, because now you’re wondering the same thing. What happened to the last four years? Why does anyone want to push me into the real world prematurely? Why do my parents suddenly want me to move out and start paying for my own wifi?

ANYWAY. Let’s talk graduation traditions and pose some questions we actually can answer, like what are some graduation traditions, and where did they come from?

Cap and Gown:

Gowns originated out of necessity more than a symbol of academic achievement. European universities, back in the 12th century, did not have sufficient heating. Robes and hoods were worn to keep the students warm during the long graduation ceremony. The gowns were later made the official uniform of graduation.

Caps, also known as mortarboards due to their resemblance to a tool used by masons to hold mortar, became popular in the 15th century. The hats were worn by artists and students and used to signify intelligence.

grad caps


Throwing of Caps:

This tradition started in 1912 at the Naval Academy. The class of 1912, unlike prior classes, was commissioned at graduation and given their officers hats. No longer needing their previous hats, they tossed them in the air. The tradition caught on around the country. Throwing of caps is now seen as a symbol of moving up into another chapter of life.

Naval Caps


Moving the Tassel:

The tassel is a fairly new addition to the graduation costume, adopted in the last 50 years or so. The tassel started as a way to decorate caps and later developed in different colors to differentiate students of various majors. Moving the tassel from the right to the left symbolizes a student’s moving from a candidate to a graduate.

moving tassel 

Beyond these traditions, practiced in universities across the country, there are a handful of traditions that are only practiced at their specific schools. Here are a few:


University of Michigan:

During orientation, incoming students are asked to walk through the Ingalls Mall Fountain. They walk towards campus, or The Diag. After graduation, students, on their own, walk through the same fountain, but this time they walk away from campus. This symbolizes their ending at the university and moving on to a new chapter of their lives.

Ingalls Mall Fountain



Senior Walk started in 1905 and has remained a tradition ever since. Each graduating class etches their names into the sidewalk. Originally, this was done by hand, but in 1986, univeristy employees designed the Sand Hog, which is a machine created specifically to etch the names in Senior Walk.

senior walk


Baylor University:

Senior Ring Out and Passing of the Key Ceremony is an annual tradition for graduates. During the ceremony, senior girls pass an ivy chain down to junior girls, forming a circle in Burleson Quad. Senior guys pass down to junior guys: the key to the box of relics buried under the Centennial monument.

Ring out


Congratulations to all the graduates this season! If you’re moving back home with your parents for an extended period of time: good luck!

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