Cap and Gown 101: What’s with the Graduation Garb?

Published on April 8, 2013 by arothstein

Have you ever wondered what the graduation outfit is all about? If you’ve graduated from high school or college and attended the commencement ceremony, you know what I’m talking about. It is a cultural tradition that we drape ourselves in a long robe, sometimes with an accompanying sash or hood, and then place the customary graduation cap on our heads, which, in any other context, would look absolutely ridiculous. And let’s not forget about the tassel—that dangling accessory that we can never quite get on the correct side. All of this bizarre attire must have originated somehow. But how?

Broadview University

Broadview University graduate, Karen Hunt Bowler

The Robe (or Gown)

During Medieval times, higher education was closely linked to religious traditions. Students and teachers adopted the religious clerics’ style of wearing long robes and caps out of necessity to keep warm inside unheated buildings. The “cap and gown” look soon became the standard dress code for universities in Europe, and during Colonial times, Americans followed suit.

Since the advent of indoor heating systems, however, the original, insulating purpose of the cap and gown became obsolete, and such attire was only brought out for graduation ceremonies as symbols of achievement.

The Cap

Historically, the cap was called a “trencher,” which was a fourteenth century word used to describe a wooden platter. In the mid-nineteenth century, the cap was described as a “mortarboard” because of its resemblance to a square board and handle that bricklayers used to hold mortar. Today we call it simply a “cap,” and it is an essential part of the graduation outfit.

The Tassel

Tassels were originally invented to adorn furniture and other home decorations. As such, tassels were first used as cap decorations. Eventually, the color of the tassel became representative of the specific field of study in which the student earned his or her degree.

Now that we have covered the basics of cap-and-gown history 101, let’s recap our most recent graduation ceremony at Broadview–Orem.

Held at the beautiful Sleepy Ridge Golf Course in Orem on the evening of March 28, the ceremony began with Adam Carter being awarded Graduate of the Quarter. Adam earned this title for his diligence in completing his degree, which he completed while also raising a daughter and working full time. His persistent willingness to help his classmates, involvement in campus activities, and excellent grades made him a standout among the graduates.

Elita Flores was the student speaker for the evening. Graduating with an associate degree in veterinary technology, she spoke about overcoming her fears and about always expressing gratitude to those people in her life that helped her succeed.

Broadview Graduates

Broadview Graduates from left to right- Karen Hunt Bowler, Samantha Ledbetter, Adam Carter, Jessica Williams, Jennifer Ehlers-Jordan, Elita Flores, and Gina Reeder

The keynote speaker, Scott Snow, director of Kids On The Move, became ill at the last minute and was unable to speak at graduation. Luckily, Broadview is endowed with plenty of talented individuals who could step in and take his place in the program, namely Randal Johnson, Broadview’s brand new director of career services (previously the campus director at Broadview-Layton).

Randal spoke about the threshold moments in our lives, such as the first day of school, the birth of a child, or the death of a parent. These experiences continue throughout our lives, and what we learn from them helps shape who we are. Many of our students start (or resume) their university schooling later in life when they are already working full-time jobs and have families to take care of. These people deserve extra respect for persevering through difficult times (and through difficult homework and tests!) and making their dreams a reality.

The graduating students were as follows:


Medical Assistant

Associate of Applied Science

Business Administration

Massage Therapy

Medical Assistant


Veterinary Technology

Staff members Mark Harrison, Amanda Black, and Rachel Chapman alternated playing the piano for the event. Broadview-Orem’s Campus Director, Ryan Farley, offered a few brief closing remarks because everyone wanted to enjoy some delicious cake!

Congrats, graduates!


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