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Blog Post: Caps and gowns and tassels … Oh, my!

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May 13, 2015

Blog Post: Caps and gowns and tassels … Oh, my!

Dear Class of ’15:

We heard you. My thanks to those students who have reached out to share concerns about graduation caps being distributed at the Tacoma Dome, separate from gowns and hoods. Rest assured that you will receive your complete cap-and-gown package on Tuesday, May 19. I’d like to explain why we thought of taking this action in the first place, and invite you to think about the larger purpose of this shared experience.

The Commencement Ceremony is the most important event on the Pacific Lutheran University calendar. It is a celebration of achievement and a confirmation of our mission and purpose. While it is becoming increasingly common at other colleges and universities to alter the regalia, we at PLU seek to maintain the traditions of the ceremony and respect for the emblems of the academic profession. This is one of the ways we indicate that we are serious about the 1,000 years of academic history and our 500 years of Lutheran higher-education heritage, and serious about our disciplines and degrees.

The academic regalia we wear for this, and other academic ceremonies, represents the academic profession, and every aspect of the regalia carries historic significance. At PLU we aim to adhere to the Academic Costume Code, which was first codified in 1895 and has been maintained by the American Council on Education (ACE) since 1932. The academic regalia is complete in itself and is not intended to be a canvas for messages, humor or items unrelated to the dress that symbolizes the academic profession.

The Academic Costume Code allows for certain exceptions, such as religious clothing or military uniforms. For instance, it is perfectly appropriate for someone to wear a headscarf (hijab, naqib or burka), turban, skullcap or other customary religious headdress in place of the academic cap (or, in some cases, together with it). It is also appropriate for clergy and military members to wear their habits or uniforms under the gown. Other exceptions can be made for similarly religious or sacred items of dress.

While in past years we have given items to students and other scholars to be worn with the academic regalia, we are also moving cautiously in the direction of reining in those practices and seeking to propose alternatives. For instance, when permission was requested for a stole to indicate military veteran status, I proposed that, instead, the veterans might carry something, such as an American flag, to indicate that identity.

I know that there are well-intentioned students who would like to express heartfelt feelings—and members of certain units or clubs who would like to display professional insignia. I ask—out of deference to the dignity of the academic ceremony—that we all refrain from these personal expressions and instead celebrate our communal achievements by honoring our academic traditions. Education, like democracy, is a privilege—one inherent with responsibility. Please share a comment, and let me know your thoughts.

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