Graduation: A History


Matthew McDonald, Writer, Editor

Schooling and the education system has been around for a long, long time. A school was a place where people who knew a certain trade would teach others, and over time a curriculum developed around basic principles about what was useful to teach to children. The teaching of math, language skills, history, science, and other more obscure subjects is represented in all countries and cultures across the world. But after a while, we learn what we need to know and move on with our lives. This event, known as graduation, is celebrated by traditions and celebrated the world over. So, what are some of these traditions and where did they start?

Graduation ceremonies date back to ancient times, especially in Islamic tradition. Although most of these traditions have not directly carried over into the present day, they have influenced traditions that we still use regularly at school graduations. Most of our modern day traditions originate in the universities of Europe, and occasionally America. One famous invention in an American university is the first ever “class ring” which was produced for the West Point class of 1835. Class rings are traditionally given by colleges to graduating students and are often customized to distinguish the year for which they were produced.

Another famous tradition is that of the graduating robes of Caps and Gowns. This tradition originated in Europe. Eventually, the tradition evolved from just including different colored robes and gowns. Colors on the caps and gowns were, over time, changed to fit different fields of study as well as different class majors and minors. Now, they can be totally and specifically tailored to what students have done at their time at colleges, high schools, and other programs of study. Many schools also simply choose to do the colors of their school.

Another time-honored graduation tradition is that of the diploma. Diplomas, which are handed to students as they walk across the stage or place where the graduation speaker is located, are essentially certificates of graduation. They were written on stretched out pieces of sheepskin until all the way up to the 1800s.

One final major tradition is among the most famous and prevalent: playing the classical music piece Pomp and Circumstance by Sir Edward Elgar. This piece is incredibly cliche and can be found at nearly every high school graduation. Simply look up the piece and listen to it, and you will immediately be able to recognize the familiar tune.

Looking over these time-honored traditions, we can see how high-school and college graduations are heavily influenced by the traditions of the past. Although these traditions have changed and been influenced by the course of history, many of them still remain partially or wholly intact. These timeless traditions and ceremonies can still be found across America and the world and will continue to evolve and survive for years to come.


Works Cited