Monday, May 07, 2012

The Role of Regalia

Most people will never wear their caps and gowns after graduation day. Thankfully, unlike prom and bride's maid dresses, high school and sometimes bachelor robes are borrowed or rented. We only keep our tassels as a souvenir.

But in the academic world, faculty are still expected to wear regalia on occasion. At Hope we wear these medieval get-ups four times a year: Opening Convocation, Honors Chapel, and two Commencement ceremonies. As is apparent in the photo taken of our faculty prior to Honors Chapel last week, not all regalia is the same. Not only do they reflect the degree earned but also the school attended. Each country can make their own rules. Dr. Wilgus sports his doctoral kilt from the University of Edinburgh for the first time. Generally, educational institutions in the US follow the American Council on Education Academic Costume Code and Ceremony Guide. Similar to the "Who are you wearing?" question of the Hollywood red carpet events, faculty generally ask each other about where and what we studied.

Masters students at Hope will be hooded in a special ceremony held on the eve of Commencement initiating them into the academy. These hoods are no longer worn as hoods over the head but are draped down the back -- and most will never be worn again. So, why do we go to the expense and trouble to dress up like wizards at Hogwarts?

According to the American Council on Education, the Academic Costume Code and Ceremony Guide
"A statute of the University of Coimbra in 1321 required that all 'Doctors, Licentiates, and Bachelors' wear gowns. In England, in the second half of the 14th century, the statutes of certain colleges forbade 'excess in apparel' and prescribed the wearing of a long gown. In the days of Henry VIII of England, Oxford and Cambridge first began prescribing a definite academic dress and made it a matter of university control even to the extent of its minor details."

Nearly 700 years later we carry on the time honored tradition that even precedes the King James Bible by 300 years. But we do not mind, and in fact we look forward to wearing these costumes and wear them for professional portraits to distribute to friends and family. Like so many ceremonial practices, the symbolism can get lost in the event. But if it causes us to ask questions such as, "why are we doing this?" Then maybe it is worth continuing.


Pictured above: Forefront: Drs. Christopher Gillette and Blair Wilgus. Background: Drs. K.C. Richardson, Carl Toney (maroon cap), Curtis Holtzen, and Joe Grana.

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