Graduation Traditions

Academic Dress

The caps and gowns worn by faculty and graduates are based on the academic dress of the 12th Century scholars. Modern academic dress in America is defined by a system that a commission of prominent university leaders formulated in 1895. Black is the most common color of the gown in the United States. There is no trimming on the gowns for the associate's, bachelor's or master's degrees.

For the doctoral degree, the gown is faced down the front with black or colored velvet and with three bars of the same color across the sleeves. The lining of the hood shows the official colors of the college or university where the degree was granted. It is edged with velvet in a color that indicates the subject area of the degree received. Some examples are white (Humanities and Social Sciences), dark blue (used for PhD degree to signify mastery of learning and scholarship), yellow (Science), and light blue (Education). The cap or mortarboard is worn parallel to the earth and the tassel is worn on the right side of the mortarboard until the degree is conferred.

The Academic Costume Code recommends that all visible items of clothing worn under the gowns should be dark colors to harmonize with the gown (dark shoes, slacks or skirts).

*At DSU: Dakota State utilizes black caps and gowns for the bachelor's, master's and doctoral graduates, while royal blue is worn by those receiving associate degrees.  It is recommended that no other embellishments be added to the cap/gown.

Honors Cords

Graduates at many schools are permitted to wear cords, stoles, medals, and pins on their commencement gowns. These typically indicate academic honors such as cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude; students who have completed university honors curriculums, or membership in elite honor societies. The cord or stole is intended to be displayed at the Commencement at which the honors were earned, and are not to be worn again at future graduations of the student.

*At DSU: At Dakota State University, gold honors cords are presented to students graduating with honors, and silver cords are presented to graduates earning the Center of Excellence distinction. These two honors cords are the only enhancements to the traditional cap/gown that have been approved by the University for Commencement ceremonies.

*NOTE: Any special requests to vary from the Academic Costume Code traditions at DSU must be approved by the President's Office.

(More detailed information on the Academic Costume Code is available on the American Council on Education website.)

Presidential Medallion

The tradition of the chief officer of an institution wearing a medallion dates back to a time when a seal was used to mark documents as important. The seal was usually worn around the neck for safekeeping and eventually wearing the seal became a symbol of authority.

The Dakota State University presidential medallion is a three-inch antique gold casting of the official university seal and hangs from a hand-woven ribbon in the university colors of blue and yellow. The ribbon was woven and designed by Connie Herring, an artist from Larchwood, Iowa, and a former Instructor of Art at Dakota State.

University Mace

A mace is a ceremonial staff used to signify authority and was historically carried by guards who protected high-ranking officials. A mace is used by universities to symbolize the institution's authority to carry out its mission of seeking wisdom and truth.

A new mace was commissioned by Dakota State University in 2011. The mace is crafted of cherry wood and is forty-two inches in length. The top contains two four-inch medallions of the official university seal made from antique bronze and mounted on each side of a cherry wood surround. One polished brass section adorns the top of the cherry wood staff.

The mace is carried at official DSU ceremonies such as graduations and presidential inaugurations by the senior ranking faculty member.


Last Updated: 10/3/12