Commencement Ceremonies: Celebrating Culture, Achievement and New Adventures

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Article Contributed by
Julia Eppehimer

They wait offstage with their friends, nervously trying to keep their hats in place and fixing their hair for the plethora of photos that are about to be taken. They’re excited; finally their life is their own. No more paths planned out for them. No more meetings with guidance counselors to choose next year’s schedule. No more asking mom and dad if it’s ok to go out with their friends.
No more knowing what tomorrow holds.
This period of their lives, which up till now seems to have taken up a good deal of their time (it’s been pretty much their whole lives) is merely the preface of where their paths will lead. It is quite an unsettling thought for one who has spent his whole life in one place, always knowing what comes next.
But in the midst of the uncertainty and the thrill, there are certain traditions that graduates can hold onto. While the world is full of the unknown and the unexpected, graduates know that they are not the first to step off the platform. Hundreds of years of college tradition dictates how this night will run, and reassures graduates that the world in which they are entering is not wholly without certainties.
It began in the middle ages, a time often thought of as ignorant. There were many scholars of the church, however, who studied and advanced their learning. As members of the church, many of them wore long clerical robes, which also served to keep them warm in the large, unheated buildings.
Caps signified the superior intelligence of the graduates, which were often red in color to represent life and blood. The tassels were originally added as a decorative feature, but a new tradition grew out of them. Today, the soon to be graduates begin the commencement ceremony with the tassel on their right side. After they receive their diploma, the tassel is moved to the left.
At the end of the night, graduates may toss up their caps, since they won’t need them again. This tradition began at the 1912 graduation of the Naval Academy. That year graduates were commissioned as naval officers on their day of graduation; therefore, they received brand new officers’ hats that day. Since their graduation caps were about to be replaced with their officer hats, they excitedly threw off their caps and tossed them into the air.
These are a few of the traditions Americans fondly employ as they celebrate the achievements of their young men and women. There will soon be parties, cakes, and pictures sent out to all of the relatives, and anyone who might in some way be connected to the family. Mom might go a little crazy. But why not? Her child has spent the last thirteen years hard at work in school and at home, and she deserves to do a little boasting.
Congratulations, graduates. And congratulations moms, and dads, grandparents, and everyone else who was always there to see them through.

 

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