History of Commencement

The annual commencement exercise is the high point of the academic year, no matter what the size of the institution.

The word "commencement" is a simple translation of the Latin inceptio, the name given to the initiation ceremony reserved for university teachers in Medieval Europe. Much of what we see in today's ceremony goes back to those times. The purpose of this ceremony is a recognition of success both for the students and the university.

Although Missouri S&T holds formal graduation exercises only in December and May of each academic year, students who complete the requirements for their degree during the summer are eligible to receive a degree which is granted in absentia. Recipients of this degree are invited to participate in the commencement ceremony held the following December.


Some of the persons who take part in the commencement exercises often blend into the entire ceremony. A brief description of their various roles during the exercises may be helpful.

Faculty Marshals are members of the teaching staff who wear their academic gowns and assume various tasks during the ceremony. They are responsible for assembling the candidates and leading them to and from the ceremony. Originally in the British universities Marshals were messengers of the Proctors and nightly patrolled the streets of university towns to prevent disorder from conflicts between students and townspeople. Today the term is applied to the men and women appointed to organize the commencement procession and keep it in order.

Honorary Degree Candidates are an accepted part of the scene at most exercises. It has been customary for Missouri S&T to honor those men and women who have distinguished themselves in the fields of engineering and science.

The Dais Group, or stage party, is the next to enter the ceremony after the students and the first to leave.

History of Academic Dress

The significance and history of academic dress at educational institutions date back to the days of the oldest universities. It is thought that gowns and hoods were worn in early days to provide a means of warmth in unheated buildings. Until well into the 19th century it was customary for many American college students to wear gowns while in daily residence or at meals. The practice has ceased to exist and, except for some of the British and European schools, few colleges request students to wear gowns except at commencement exercises. The hood was used as a covering for the head until it was replaced by the skull cap and later replaced by the traditional "mortarboard." The mortarboard, or Oxford type, has remained throughout the years black in color. The tassel for graduates is black, except for the doctor of philosophy candidate, which is gold metallic thread.

The gowns for bachelor's candidates are black with long pointed sleeves differing from the master's gown which has oblong sleeves with an opening at the wrist. The rear part of the sleeve has a square cut and the front has an arc cut away. The master's gown also is black. The bachelor's gown is to be worn closed while the master's gown may remain open or closed. The gown for the doctor's degree has bell-shaped sleeves with velvet panels down the front and around the neck and velvet bars on the sleeves. The doctor's gown may be worn open or closed.

Originally used as a head covering, shoulder cape, or bag for collecting alms, the hood is retained today on the academic scene for the sake of tradition. Its shape is like that used in the day of large wigs when the wearers did not wish to cover their elaborate hair styles, and so kept the hoods merely for their symbolic and decorative effect. A narrow neckband connects the two halves of the cape proper which is lined with colored silk and taffeta. The hoods worn by the master's and doctoral candidates are black. The master's and doctor's hoods are three and one-half and four feet long, respectively. The University of Missouri hood has a lining of old gold, with each campus showing a different color chevron. The Missouri University of Science and Technology has two silver chevrons, University of Missouri-Columbia has two black chevrons, University of Missouri-Kansas City has two blue chevrons, and the University of Missouri-St. Louis has two scarlet chevrons. The binding of the hood is velvet in the color of the subject to which the degree pertains. The binding color for engineering is orange, for science it is golden yellow. The doctor of philosophy hood binding is dark blue, while the doctor of engineering hood binding is orange. The colors associated with other subjects which you might see today are as follows: agriculture - maize; arts, letters, and humanities - white; commerce, accountancy, and business - drab; dentistry - lilac; economics - copper; education - light blue; fine arts (including architecture) - brown; forestry - russet; home economics - maroon; journalism - crimson; law - purple; library science - lemon; medicine - green; music - pink; nursing - apricot; oratory (speech) - silver gray; optometry - seafoam green; pharmacy - olive green; philosophy - dark blue; physical education - sage green; public administration (including foreign service) - peacock blue; public health - salmon pink; social work - citron; theology - scarlet; and veterinary science - gray. In assigning colors, much consideration was given to historical association. White was given to the school of arts because of the white fur of the Oxford hood. Red being the traditional color of the church, it was assigned to theology; green the color of herbs, was given to medicine, and golden yellow to science.

Members of the administration of a university are all entitled to wear doctor's gowns, but their hoods must accurately represent the degree they actually hold. Thus a curator holding a bachelor's degree may wear a doctor's gown for ceremony, but must wear a bachelor's hood. It is permissible for a faculty member to wear in the hood lining the colors of the college at which he or she is in residence rather than the one at which his or her degree was conferred. In ceremonies at which honorary degrees are awarded, candidates may wear the gown of the degree to be conferred on them.

The mortarboard is a descendant of the simple round commoner's cap of medieval times. Being made of four pieces, it gradually became square, next the seams hardened into vertical projects, and finally the hardening and projecting of the top surface of the square cap resulted in the stiff mortarboard. The name "mortarboard" comes from its similarity in shape to the square board commonly used for mixing mortar. The tassel hangs over the left front quarter of the top. Tradition decrees the mortarboard should be worn indoors and outdoors, except by women or men during prayer.

The primary purpose of the hood has changed from one of protection and warmth to identification. By wearing the academic dress, a candidate is not only upholding tradition but identifying the institution, the level of the degree and the discipline in which the degree was earned.


A degree is awarded the successful completion of a program of study. The first-known academic degree, the doctorate (from the Latin "docere": to teach), was granted by the University of Bologna in the mid 12th century. Originally the doctor's and master's degrees were virtually synonymous, while the title "bachelor" indicated entrance to a course of study rather than its completion. The first bachelor's degree awarded in America was at Harvard's commencement exercises in 1642.

Academic degree diplomas were once elaborately hand lettered in Latin script on parchment. However, the scarcity of genuine parchment and its excessively high cost have caused most colleges to adopt a substitute. Diplomas were not generally given out on a regular basis by American colleges until the early 19th century.

Today, the most popular degrees in American colleges are the B.A. and B.S., to which the designation of a special field is often added, such as B.S. in engineering management. Special fields have corresponding designations at the more advanced levels, as M.S. in engineering mechanics, although there is a tendency to award undesignated doctoral degrees.

Academic honors are awarded at commencement to undergraduate students who have achieved a University of Missouri cumulative grade point average of at least 3.20. Cum Laude is awarded for an average from 3.20 to 3.50, Magna Cum Laude is from 3.50 to 3.80 and Summa Cum Laude is from 3.80 or better. The appropriate Latin script is engrossed on the diploma in recognition of this achievement. Academic precedent directs that only honors at graduation are to be noted on a diploma.

The Missouri University of Science and Technology has an honors program for undergraduate students that allows a deeper look at subjects. To qualify for the divisional honors program a cumulative grade point average of 3.50 is required on a minimum of 60 hours of credit and acceptance into a divisional honors program by the department in which a student is majoring. A student who has a minimum of three semesters of participation in a divisional honors program and who has completed an honors paper on an independent project will receive an honors designation on his or her diploma.