For every person that loves the pomp and circumstance of graduation day, the quirky cap and the big baronial gown, there is a person that feels like the whole cap and gown thing is a justifiable reason to give the entire graduation ceremony a miss. So where does it all come from, and is it at all necessary in modern society?
The academic raiment that people wear when they graduate is a throwback from medieval times. The gown that people wear was actually how everyone dressed back then. It must have been great for the winter but somewhat stifling in the summer. They also present somewhat of a trip/slip/fall hazard, and so universities from back then would have been subject to considerable public liability insurance premiums.
So what about the hats? Mortarboards were originally reserved exclusively for people who’d managed to obtain a master’s degree, but are now used by both undergraduates and bachelors also. They have also been used by many as inadvertent weapons throughout the years. Many a graduate has flung their ‘Bishop Andrewes’ in excitement, perhaps a bit too far in the air and a bit too inaccurately, only to see it drop via one of its points onto the head of a fellow graduate. In 2011, no fewer than 72 graduates received hospital treatment as a consequence of an academic cap injury.
So as well as being from the past, and dangerous, they are also perceived by many to be outdated and unnecessary. As time moves on and the world of education subscribes to modernity in a million different ways it becomes more and more difficult to justify the reactionary regalia that for many a stickler, underpins what university is all about.
In an education system that no longer uses chalk boards, tinkers with the formal setting of the classroom and conducts itself in virtual environments, is there really a need for the cap and gown any longer? Whilst it would seem like somewhat of an anti-climax for everyone to turn up on graduation day wearing their jeans and t-shirts, is the cap and gown really all that necessary?
Would it not be equally as smart and fitting for each of the males to wear a nice suit, each of the females something equally as smart. Maybe that is something that the cap and gown does have going for it, though. It is epicene, creating a synchronic plateau whereby the boys and the girls are all uniform. If that is all that it has going for it then perhaps it’s doomed, because there are plenty of male graduates who doubtless feel slightly as though they are cross-dressing.
There are also the cost implications of the cap and gown. Even though people are not expected to buy them, they cost a fair amount just to hire, and for what? An elongated ceremony and a few pictures. For many, then, there’s the additional logistical nightmare of trying to offload it so that the all-important drinking binge can commence. It seems that the cap and gown is a tradition that’s clinging on for dear life.
This post was written on behalf of OCVC