Academic Customs and Traditions


The commencement ceremony begins with a formal academic procession. At Aurora University, selected members of the Board of Trustees enter first and are followed by members of the faculty, who often march in order of seniority. The university's President is the final person to enter the tent. The President is preceded by the Provost who carries the ceremonial mace. The President wears the institution's presidential chain as a symbol of the university's authority.

The Presidential Chain

A gift of the Class of 1972, the presidential chain is the symbol of the highest collegiate office. The bold, 16-link chain is crafted of pewter and supports a three-piece medallion. The topmost transitional section is capped by a 10 mm white pearl, stylistically reminiscent of the Spartan Torch in the college seal. The central section of the medallion incorporates the Aurora College sunburst colophon. The letters "AC" are crafted in and appliquéd on a three-inch silver disk and surrounded by deep blue enamel, the college color. The disk rests in a forged pewter bezel framed by 10 semicircular "rays" which are terminated by 6 mm white pearls. Completing the medallion is an ivy leaf surrounded by blue enamel, the college symbol of highest scholarship. The university's President wears the institution's presidential chain at formal academic events such as convocation and commencement. Designed by Scott B. Palmer, a member of the class of 1972, it was crafted by Elizabeth Budd of Manchester, Connecticut.

The Academic Ceremonial Mace

The university mace was designed to represent the founding schools of Aurora University - Aurora College and George Williams College. The mace, originally a weapon used in the middle ages, has over the centuries become a symbol of order and authority. The design of the center head of the mace links Aurora College and George Williams College to Aurora University. The center head also includes the university seal. The mace is carried by the university's Provost in the processions that begin and end academic exercises such as convocation and commencement and immediately precedes the President. When it is not being used in university ceremonies, the mace is displayed in the President's office.


At Aurora University, academic regalia is worn on ceremonial occasions, in a manner consistent with a tradition that finds its origins in the Middle Ages. As early as 1321, university degree holders wore costumes designed to reflect their particular status and roles. In addition to signaling differences in rank, the garments also served functional purposes. For example, the long gown provided necessary warmth in the drafty buildings of the time. Since each institution of higher learning was free to develop its own distinctive regalia, many different forms of academic dress are found within the European tradition.

American colleges and universities opted for a greater degree of uniformity. Their representatives gathered at Columbia University in 1895 to devise common standards for academic regalia. In the United States, gowns distinguish the rank of the wearer. For instance, the bachelor's gown is unadorned and is characterized by wide sleeves that are pointed at the hem. The gowns worn by master's degree recipients also are unadorned, but have curiously elongated sleeves. Doctoral gowns are trimmed with velvet facings down the front. Their bell-shaped sleeves are trimmed with three velvet bars across the sleeves.

Graduates of most American colleges and universities wear black gowns. However, some institutions provide for special variations. For example, doctoral recipients from Harvard University wear crimson gowns; those from Yale University wear blue; and individuals holding doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University wear maroon and purple respectively.

Black mortarboards are standard to most institutions of higher learning, although some feature soft velvet tams or Elizabethan caps. Traditionally, candidates for degrees wear the tassels on their mortarboards on the right, while those upon whom degrees have been conferred wear them on the left. Recipients of doctoral degrees may wear either black or gold tassels.

Hoods provide the color in an academic procession. These garments, which today serve only ceremonial purposes, are worn fastened at the front of the collar and draped over the shoulders in such a way as to display the linings, which represent the color of the university awarding the degree. The hoods also have velvet linings in colors that represent particular disciplines or fields of study. Those worn by graduates in arts and letters, for example, are trimmed in white velvet, while those worn by degree recipients in education are trimmed in light blue velvet.

Commencement Etiquette

In keeping with the dignity of this event, members of the audience are encouraged to remain seated during the processional and recessional. In addition, alarm watches, cellular phones and electronic pagers should be turned off during the ceremony. Professional photographs will be taken of each graduate as his or her degree is awarded. Complimentary proofs will be mailed later. Latecomers will be seated following the invocation.