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Graduation ceremonies are a tradition that goes back 800 years to the establishment of the first European universities. The traditions performed at these ceremonies have progressed through the years. The cap and gown is a well-known symbol for graduation. The tradition of the gown started in the 12th century. Graduates would typically have to stand outside during the ceremonies which and would get really cold, thus they began wearing long robes with hoods to keep themselves warm.

The cap symbolizes superiority and intelligence and became popular in the 14th and 15th centuries. Another well-known symbol is the tassel. Tassels ornamenting graduation caps only started in the last 40-50 years. It was originally designed to decorate the cap during the ceremony, but the gesture of moving the tassel from one side of the cap to the other has become a symbol of the student transitioning to a graduate.

A fun tradition that started in 1912 was the tossing of the graduation cap. This was started by the Naval Academy. The class of 2012 was commissioned to be Naval officers by the time they graduated and would receive their officers hats. Since they no longer needed to keep their hats, they tossed them in the air in celebration. The tradition caught on throughout the country and is now regarded as a symbolic gesture of the end of a chapter in a graduate’s life.

You cannot attend a graduation without hearing and recognizing a familiar graduation song, “Pomp and Circumstance.” This song is also known as “Land of Hope and Glory” and was originally a British patriotic song. The song was composed by Sir Edward Elgar, and the lyrics were written by Arthur Christopher Benson in 1902. The march was first played in the U.S. at Yale University in 1905 when the Professor of Music, Samuel Sanford, invited his friend Elgar to receive an honorary doctorate of music. From there it has been played as the processional tune at all high school and college graduation ceremonies. These small traditions may not seem important by themselves, but without them graduation events wouldn’t be the same as they are today.

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