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Graduation is a special rite of passage. The first graduations were held by European universities in the Middle Ages. Schools award graduates a diploma for successfully completing their courses. The Sunday before diplomas are handed out, many schools host a special religious service called baccalaureate. Diplomas are presented to graduating students at a special ceremony called commencement.

Traditionally, graduates wear long gowns and flat caps. They’re either black or the school’s colors. The caps, called mortarboards, have colored tassels signifying which degree a college graduate will be receiving. Doctor’s caps likely have gold tassels. Students who have already earned a degree might wear a colored hood to signify their highest degree.

During the 1100’s, university students wore gowns and hoods for warmth. They later became academic clothing for students and teachers. Early American universities did the same for their own graduation ceremonies. Since 1900, high school and grammar schools have done the same.

Gowns are different for higher education depending on the degree. Those earning a doctoral degree wear a black robe with velvet facings. Full, round sleeves have three colored velvet bars which indicate the field of study. Doctors also wear a long hood with velvet trim. Master’s degree graduates wear gowns with full-length square sleeves. From each sleeve hands a crescent shape panel. These students also wear a hood trimmed with velvet. A bachelor’s degree graduate wears a gown with pointed sleeves.

When ceremonies are underway, the best in class make speeches. The valedictorian earned the highest grades, followed by the salutatorian, who earned the second highest. Once the diplomas are handed out, graduates move their tassels from the right side of their caps to the left.

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