Graduation Symbols and Their Meanings

As a graduate planning your graduation party, you are probably being inundated with graduation images and illustrations. Though many of their meanings is known by context, graduation invitation symbols are ripe with historical significance. There are entire websites dedicated to unlocking the secrets behind common graduation imagery, such as the class ring or the yearbook. Below is a list of explanations for certain graduation symbols, but do your own research in case there are others that pique your interest. School may be out but the learning doesn’t need to stop!

Tassel:Turning the tassel (from right to left, except for a recipient of a Master’s, which flips from left to right) is a highlight in a completion or graduation ceremony. It usually occurs after all students have received their diplomas and shook hands with the principle, dean, or president, depending on the school.

Cap and Gowns: The history of caps and gowns are linked back to the beginnings of universities, in Europe, in the 13th and 14th century. Then they had both scholastic and religious significance. Now they are usually wholly scholastic in meaning. The colors of gowns can signify different courses of study, especially when the graduate is receiving an advanced degree. At the high school and undergraduate level caps and gowns are normally black or a school color, with a decorative stole distinguishing their degree. (Sidenote: though schools have traditionally allowed for the throwing of hats, some high schools and universities are now calling the practice “dangerous” and are forbidding it because liability).

Hoods: According to the Brownislocks and The 3 Bears Web site, which specializes in the history of graduation ceremonies, the velvet color on the outer edge of the hood corresponds to the degree of the graduate. White velvet is used for the arts and letters, while gold is used for science and brown for fine arts.

Music: Often at commencement ceremonies, graduates will march out to the song “Pomp and Circumstance.” Though not at every graduation, it is very common. Composed by Sir Edward Elgar, “Pomp and Circumstance” was first performed on October 19, 1901 in England.

Globe: A globe is another commonly used symbol for graduation announcements. In the context of education, the globe can represent a worldview expanded by scholastic achievement. It is a symbol of how education shapes us into global citizens.

Other traditional symbols are more explicit in their meaning, such as scrolls and pencils; scrolls representing the received diploma (which historically would have been written on a scroll and not just a square piece of paper) and pencils, which would clearly be representative of the countless written tasks completed in order to graduate. There are others, like class rings that literally have catalogs of meanings—depending on the images and gems used.

With their meanings in hand, now you can knowingly choose which graduation symbols are best suited for your invitations. Maybe you will choose all of them, or none of them, or just a few; you can always check out the history of other images if they weren’t listed above.

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