The ceremony probably dates back to 1432 when Oxford University passed a statute requiring all bachelors to deliver a speech in Latin.
The concept of receiving a degree for completing an established curriculum originated in Islamic culture. The earliest degrees were written on sheepskin, a tradition that continued until about 100 years ago.
The Commencement ceremony at San Francisco State University continues the centuries-old tradition of wearing distinctive academic dress. This custom dates back to the Middle Ages (12th century England) when people dressed in accordance with their rank in society and their professions. Since the clergy was the literate class at that time, today’s academic costume, which is used both at U.S. and European colleges and universities, originates from these early clerical robes.
The Cap & Gown
Bachelor’s and Master’s degree holders wear their plain black gowns along with black motarboards (caps). In 1999, San Francisco State University celebrated its 100th birthday and at that time, the Bachelor’s gown changed to purple (school color). The Master’s gown is also purple and may be worn either open or closed. Bachelor’s gowns have long, pointed sleeves while Master’s gowns have long crescent-shaped sleeves.
The tassel indicates the wearer’s academic degree. The tassel is to be worn on the right before receiving a diploma. Once the diploma is received, or before the graduate steps off the stage, the tassel is to be switched to the left side. This is meant to signify the progression from one stage of life to the next.
The Master’s Hood is three and one-half feet long with wide panels on either side. The inside of the Hood, or lining, is made of silk and depicts the colors of the institution granting the degree. The Master’s Hood is trimmed with velvet panels of varying widths. The panel color represents the field in which the degree was received. Some of the most common colors are: white (Arts & Letters); brown (Business & Commerce); copper (Economics); light blue (Education); maroon (Home Economics); crimson (Journalism); pink (Music); dark blue (Philosophy); sage green (Physical Education); golden yellow (Science); purple (Law); lemon (Library Science); peacock blue (Public Administration) and scarlet (Theology).