Commencement History and Tradition

History and Tradition

A commencement ceremony ranks among the most formal ceremonies in an academic institution and involved centuries-old traditions that have their roots in medieval secular and religious institutions. Here is a description of some of the more important aspects of the ceremony.

President Ettling in his academic regalia Presidential Chain of Office

The Chain of Office, also commonly referred to as the Presidential Medallion, is worn by the president as a symbol of the SUNY Plattsburgh's history and tradition. It is worn at all official ceremonies of the College, including Commencement and Honors Convocation.

The Chain of Office was designed in 1997 to carry on the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of SUNY Plattsburgh. The beautiful medallion integrates the current seal of the institution with a decorative bezel. The chain features fleur-de-lis banner links, which are engraved with the names of the College's past principals and presidents along with their years of service to the institution and community.

The name of President John Ettling is engraved on the closet banner link just above the medallion, and its location signifies his current position as president of the institution. From his banner, the chain branches off in two directions and completes a full circle.

Dr. Charles Zinser, the most senior member of the faculty, carries the mace. College Mace

One of the earliest distinctive signs used by medieval university officials was the academic scepter or mace. The mace was originally a wooden staff carried by royal messengers. In the middle of the 13th century the mace came into use in England and was carried by the king's sergeants in formal processionals.

The early wooden staff of the university beadle, a subaltern official, evolved in the 14th century into an elaborate silver mace. It was carried by the beadle during processions and graduation ceremonies and was displayed as a symbol to command order during classes. In the 15th century, it became symbolic of academic dignity.

Today, traditional academic processions continue to bear some of the same formal aspects of ceremonies from the past including the mace. The handcrafted mace of SUNY Plattsburgh was designed and sculpted in 1985 by the late Dr. Edgar Barton, SUNY distinguished teaching professor emeritus of art. Dr. Barton used his own unique technique of silver inlay in a piece of black walnut wood to create a modern adaptation of this traditional form.

The academic procession is led by the most senior members of the faculty who will carry the mace -- a symbol of academic authority.

Academic Attire

Caps, gowns and hoods worn at college and university functions date from the Middle Ages. Monks and students of that time wore them to keep warm in the damp, drafty halls of learning. From these practical origins they have developed into the accepted garb, which symbolizes scholarly achievement.

Today, the design and color of the various attire are key to the level of education and field of study of the person. Baccalaureate gowns have a long, pleated front with shirring across the shoulders and back. They are primarily distinguished by flowing sleeves pointed at the fingertips. These gowns may be worn open or closed.

The master's gown is worn open and the sleeve is cut so that the forearm comes through a slit just above the elbow. Gowns for the doctorate are also worn open. They carry broad, velvet panels down the front and the three velvet bards on the full, round sleeves. This velvet trimming may be either black or the color distinctive of the degree.

Academic gowns are generally black, but several institutions permit doctoral recipients to wear gowns of the characteristic institutional color. You may notice among those in the processional today, a brown gown (Brown University), a crimson gown (Harvard), and a light blue gown (Columbia University.)

Mortarboards or caps worn with baccalaureate and master's gowns generally have black tassels. The tassel of the doctoral cap is usually made of gold bullion. The hood gives color and meaning to the academic costume. Its silk lining bears the color of the institution conferring the degree. The hood is bordered with velvet of a prescribed width and color to indicate the field of learning to which the degree pertains.

Academic Colors
Apricot Nursing
Brown Fine Arts
Citron Social Work
Copper Economics
Cream Social Science
Crimson Journalism
Dark Blue Philosophy
Drab Commerce, Accountancy, Business
Golden Yellow Science
Green Medicine
Lemon Library Science
Light Blue Education
Orange Engineering
Peacock Blue Public Administration, including Foreign Service
Pink Music
Purple Law
Russett Forestry
Sage Green Physical Education
Salmon Pink Public Health
Scarlet Theology
Silver Gray Oratory (Speech)
White Arts, Letters, Humanities

Honors Distinctions

Students who qualify for an honors distinction are to be highly commended for their academic achievements. They are recognized during commencement ceremonies and in the commencement program. The honors distinction is based on grade point averages at the end of the previous semester.

Honors Distinctions are as follows:

  • Summa Cum Laude (with highest honor): 3.90 to 4.00
  • Magna Cum Laude (with high honor): 3.70 to 3.89
  • Cum Laude (with honors): 3.40 to 3.69

Students with a grade point average at the end of the academic year that meets the honors criteria as noted above, will receive the honors distinction, which will be recorded and displayed on the official transcript and diploma.

Various departments also have individual honors programs. These departments may distribute cords to wear during the ceremony as well. Students may inquire with department chairs or advisors to verify if there are any specific honors distinctions for a major/program.

 

Contact Information

For more information about Spring Commencement at SUNY Plattsburgh, please contact:

Office of the President
159 Hawkins Hall
(518) 564-2010 (phone)
(518) 564-3932 (fax)
Email: president_office@plattsburgh.edu