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What does a graduation hood symbolize?

I’ve always been fascinated with graduation ceremonies ever since I attended my brother’s college graduation when I was eight years old. There was a lot of excitement and a big celebration. I could hardly wait for my own. Now, I’m graduating from high school and can’t wait for the high school graduation ceremony.

What draws my fancy the most is the full attire you get to wear when you are graduating. What do these different clothing that makes for the graduation dress mean? What does the graduation hood symbolize? Do the different colors have different meanings?

Kristi Hammond

in Events and Holidays

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Jodi Brooks on May 17, 2018

Graduation hoods are usually worn on the shoulders and falling to the back. These and the entire attire that higher institutions require their students to wear during graduation day can be traced back hundreds of years ago. The significance of this attire was to signify higher religious and intellectual status of an individual from lay people. In fact, such attire was often worn not just on the graduation day, but as uniform by medieval scholars and often attracted respect wherever they went.

According to other sources, the hood and gown’s main purpose was to keep the scholars warm in otherwise cold buildings (most buildings were unheated in those days) and carry alms. With time, these attires became associated with knowledge, higher intellectual capacity, and great academic achievements.

Today, studying in a higher institution in most countries, you find yourself wearing a hood, cap and a gown, which may feel heavy and such a drag. Not to mention the sweating and discomfort you will likely feel as graduations are usually held outdoors. College and high school graduation ceremonies are bright events. However, remember that graduations, like many other century-old celebrations, are full of symbolism. For example, for a bachelor’s degree, the graduation robe’s sleeves are pointed whereas for Master’s graduands, their sleeves will have an oblong shape. For a doctorate student, the sleeves have bell-shaped sleeves. Traditionally, bachelor degree graduands wear their gown closed while higher degree graduands are free to wear their robes closed or open.

Well, the different colors are not just for the entertainment, and each one represents something. With most gowns being black or in some cases brown, the rest of the attire is usually brightly colored. These colors represent the student’s academic level or college major.

However, universities are not bound by these traditional color standards and may choose their own colors to symbolize different aspects during their graduation ceremony. There are dozens of colors for the caps and hoods, and we can’t possibly mention all of them here. Here are a few hood color meanings according to the 1893 American academic custom color code:

  • Beige: business-related courses and accounting.
  • Brown: fine and dramatic arts degrees.
  • Green: medicine and health degrees.
  • Purple: law studies.
  • White: humanities such as history, sociology, languages.
  • Yellow: science courses including environmental science.
  • Orange: all courses in engineering.
  • Pale blue: education degrees.
  • Dark blue: political science, philosophy, public policy, foreign affairs, government, etc. 

Kyle Mckinney2 years ago

The US took on the practice of wearing academic regalia including graduation hoods from Europe. With an established code (mentioned above) dictating academic dress, most universities find it easier to follow these standards than create their own. However, graduation attire in the US and the UK is still strikingly similar in appearance.

Though this attires are rarely worn outside graduation day ceremonies; the practice has widely become popular in recent years extending from college to other academic levels such as high schools and elementary. High schools are using different colors and designs as no code governs how such regalia should be worn at academic levels lower than a college bachelor.

The code governing academic wear has been updated severally as new course emerge making it more difficult to keep up. Plus, with universities not bound by this code, you cannot be sure what any color means without specific research on the institution. 


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