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History and Traditions

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History & Traditions

The first two graduates celebrated the completion of their University of Oklahoma degrees, with faculty by their sides, in 1896. We continue this tradition today as graduation candidates stand alongside their professors to celebrate the knowledge, skills and values that have been gained during their time within the hallowed halls of the University of Oklahoma.

The University of Oklahoma takes great pride in awarding honorary degrees during Commencement. Recipients are alumni or individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to a field or profession represented at the University.

The design of academic gowns and hoods in the United States was inherited from British universities. The gown is medieval in concept and originated in European universities. The cap or mortarboard is from Italy, but the hood as an academic vestment is distinctly British.

In the early years, teachers wore academic gowns with appropriate hoods in the classroom, a practice still followed in England. In the United States, gowns and hoods are worn only on ceremonial occasions.

The general wearing of gowns for commencement in the United States started in the 1880s. By 1897 nearly 50 American universities had registered the color of their hoods and hood lining. Although gowns originally were designed to be worn open or closed, closed gowns have become the tradition in the United States.

Currently, there are three distinct types of gowns: the undergraduate gown with a long, pointed sleeve; the master’s gown with a long, closed sleeve, and the doctor’s gown with full, balloon sleeve and chevrons.

At one time the gown color denoted the wearer’s educational specialty, but in the United States the majority of gowns are black. Some universities have designated a particular color for their gown. These are symbolic of the school’s color rather than the area of educational specialty. Many of our faculty proudly wear regalia bearing the colors of the schools where they earned their degrees.

The University of Oklahoma adopted gowns specific to our institution in January of 2006. The undergraduate and master’s gowns have the University seal embroidered on the front chest panel and doctor’s gowns are trimmed in crimson velvet.

Bachelor’s and master’s hoods have a “simple” shape, or stylized hood, while the doctor’s hood is six inches longer and utilizes the “simple” shape attached to a tippet. Hoods usually are the same material as the gown.

The trim around the edge of the hood, 2 to 5 inches in width, represents the department of faculty or learning. The lining of the hood is the colors of the college or university conferring the degree. In 1895, the University of Oklahoma chose colors of crimson and cream, but traditionally red and white often have been substituted. An individual wears the lining colors of the institution granting the degree, or the colors of the institution to which the wearer is officially connected.

The Oxford cap or mortarboard, worn by all graduates from a degree-granting institution, comes from the biretta, a cap worn by the Venetian Doges during the Italian Renaissance. This cap, originally fitted over the ears, had a square top with no tassel.

Current usage has modified it to a black square on a skull cap pointed front to back. The attached tassel designates the area of educational specialty of the undergraduate degree.

Gaining some popularity over the mortarboard is a new eight-sided velvet tam for the doctoral degree.

The colors of the tassel worn by candidates for all degrees have a significance which is rooted historically in the traditions of academic life.

  • The colors of the tassels worn by candidates for the baccalaureate degrees represent the field of knowledge in which the degree is conferred.
  • All master’s candidates wear black tassels.
  • Doctoral candidates formerly wore black tassels, but they now wear a “gold bullion” tassel which used to be worn only by presidents and chancellors.

Each Commencement ceremony begins with the pageantry of the academic processional.

The Commencement processional is lead by members of PE-ET (OU's top ten seniors) and Class Council (students dedicated to class unity). Each of these student organization represent the student's commitment to the university and their graduating class.

Both flags representing the Tribal Nations of our graduating Native American students and international flags carried by students from around the world show the richness of our OU family.

Accompanying the processional are the Pipes and Drums of the Highlanders of Oklahoma City. Founded in 1957 as one of the first bagpipe bands in Oklahoma, the Highlanders have been a part of OU Commencement throughout modern history.

Serving as the color guard are the Kiowa Black Leggings Society. The society was established generations ago to honor veterans. It was revived in 1958 by Gus Palmer, Sr. and his two brothers, George and Dixon, to honor their brother, Lyndreth, who was killed in World War II.

The mace and collar used in the Commencement ceremonies were commissioned by the Alumni Development Fund on the occasion of the retirement of Dr. George Lynn Cross, seventh president of the University. Both pieces were created by Professor Joe Attebury, formerly with the School of Art.

The mace, carried by the chairpersons of the Faculty Senate as a symbol of the faculty authority, is made of sterling silver, ebony and ivory. The native semi-precious stones clustered above the seal represent the variety of the disciplines of the academic community.

The sterling silver collar and medallion are comprised of the University seal in the center surrounded by links containing symbols of the University. The collar is worn by the OU president as a symbol of his office.

These items are more than just symbols to represent the authority of the presidency and the faculty. They are a reminder of the people's faith in education, in responsibility of the presidential office and in the guardianship of the University by the State of Oklahoma.

The doctoral candidates from all disciplines along with their faculty mentors process together under a graduate college banner. Attainment of a docoral degree is the highest academic achievement conferred. These candidates have spent years working on their research while being mentored by their faculty advisors.

The hooding ceremony signifies a scholarly and personal achievement. The graduate faculty mentor places the hood on the student as a symbol of passage from student to colleague. Among the first to recognize this rite of passage is the President of the University and the faculty member who served as the student's advisor.

The OU Ring tells a story, a story of people, place and possibility. Our ring is a symbol of the great women and men, the great people with vision and dreams, students, faculty and staff, making meaning through the investment of their lives in the next generation and all the generations that follow.

The traditional border of the university seal circles the ring top reminding everyone that while we are a diverse campus community, we are all included and valued as members of the OU family. Both our state and our university are strongly influenced by our Native American heritage. The interlocking OU, at the center of the ring, is probably the most universal and most recognizable symbol of the university. The ring is made of gold. As a precious metal, gold symbolizes the value of an OU education. The educational experience and the friendships developed both in and outside the classrooms are precious indeed. The arches on each side of the ring are the most common symbol of the Cherokee Gothic architectural style that is apparent throughout most campus structures. Likewise, arches, built as senior class gifts over the years, provide both the symbolic and actual welcome and gateway at every major entrance to our campus.

Each year during homecoming week, students and alumni who have ordered their rings are honored at the annual OU Ring Ceremony. Participants and their guests are invited to take part in the symbolic ceremony and a celebratory reception that follows. During the ceremony, each student will be personally presented with their ring from the president of the university.

Order your OU Class Ring

Since 1906, the graduating class has presented a gift to the University that enhances the campus community and leaves a tangible marker of their time on campus. Over the years, Class Gifts have created such campus landmarks as the Cherokee Gothic arches that welcome visitors to Parrington Oval and the Asp Avenue, Elm Avenue and Brooks Street entrances, and the Centennial Arches, a 100th birthday gift to OU from the Class of 1990, which stand sentinel at the entrance of Van Vleet Oval; the OU Reflecting Pool at The Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, originally a gift of the Class of 1934 and revived by the classes of 1960 and 2000; and the fountain and pool between Oklahoma Memorial Union and Monnet Hall, a gift of the Class of 1935.

The Student Alumni Association and the Class Gift Committee have the honor of facilitating opportunities for graduating students to give back to their alma mater that gave so much to them over their collegiate experiences. The class gift gives graduating students an opportunity to leave a legacy for future generations, and is a permanent reminder of their time at the University of Oklahoma.

Give to the Class Gift