University of Houston-Victoria

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The Meaning of Academic Regalia

The mace is a ceremonial symbol of the office of the president of the university and derives from medieval England when officials taking office or opening court needed a bodyguard for protection. On such occasions, the actual weapon was carried by the bodyguard to dissuade those who might attempt to interfere with the official’s activities. Use of the mace has been purely symbolic since colonial American times. In university ceremonies, the mace is carried by a distinguished member of the faculty.

The costumes of those in the academic procession date back to at least the 14th century. A Portuguese statute dated to 1321 required that all “Bachelors, Licentiates and Doctors” of the University of Coimbra wear gowns. In 1895, academic institutions in the United States adopted a code of academic dress that occasionally has been revised. The dress of institutions in other countries varies, and there is not a worldwide code, but the basic elements are present in all academic costumes.

The bachelor’s gown has long, pointed sleeves. The master’s gown has an oblong sleeve open at the wrists. Some older gowns may be open near the upper part of the arm. The doctor’s gown is fuller than the others with full-length velvet panels on the front and three velvet crossbars on each sleeve in black or in the color distinctive of the subject to which the wearer’s degree pertains. Gowns for degrees below the baccalaureate, such as an associate degree, are of a lighter color.

The master's hood, draped over the shoulders and down the back, indicates the subject to which the degree pertains and the university that conferred the degree. The hoods are lined with the official color or colors of the college or university conferring the degree. The binding or edging of the hood is of velvet or velveteen, and the color is representative of the subject to which the degree pertains.

In the United States, the black mortarboard is most commonly worn. The tassel fastened to the center of the mortarboard usually is black, although it may be the color appropriate to the subject of the degree. It is common for students to begin the commencement ceremony with their tassels on the right and then switch them to the left as a group. The doctor’s cap usually has a gold, metallic tassel. UHV candidates graduating with honors can be recognized by a gold cord draped around the neck, which symbolizes academic excellence.