History of Commencement

The colorful traditions surrounding academic regalia – gowns, caps, hoods, tassels, and cords – date back to the first European universities. What began in the Middle Ages as clothing worn by clerics to provide warmth in damp, unheated buildings progressed, by the time of Henry VIII of England, to detailed codes of dress prescribed by Oxford University and Cambridge University.

In the late 1800s, universities in the U.S. began to assign specific colors to signify the different academic disciplines, and those colors now appear in the trim of graduates’ gowns, the edging of hoods, and sometimes on the tassels of caps. The color white for example, which at Oxford and Cambridge is the white fur trim of baccalaureate hoods, in America was assigned to arts, letters and humanities graduates.



Baccalaureate gowns, usually black, have wide pointed sleeves and are worn closed. Master’s gowns have oblong slit sleeves that open at the wrist and are worn open or closed. Doctoral gowns have bell-shaped sleeves and are worn closed. Holders of the Doctoral degree may wear a velvet facing on the front of the gown and three velvet bars across the sleeve. The velvet may be black or it may be the color appropriate to the subject in which the wearer holds the degree.



Hoods are ornamental folds draped down the back of the shoulders of academic gowns worn by Master’s or Doctoral degree graduates. Master’s degree candidates wear hoods lined with colors that reflect their course of study, such as Business Administration. Doctoral degree hoods have a silk lining with the colors of the institution from which the wearer has graduated. Graduates from the University of California system wear hoods lined with blue and gold, the university’s official colors, as well as colored velvet bands.

The color of the velvet band on the Master’s and Doctoral hood indicates the title of the degree; the band on Master of Business Administration and Master of Professional Accountancy hoods is officially called "drab" or tan. A doctorate recipient, regardless of the field of study, wears dark blue because the title of the degree is Doctor of Philosophy.

At the University of California, Irvine, all graduates wear a duo-color tassel made up of the University's colors, blue and gold. The year is stamped on the reverse side of the University of California, Irvine, official seal. Undergraduates receiving a degree have their tassel start on the right side and then it is moved to the left. Graduate level degree recipients start the tassel on the left side and it is not moved.


UC Irvine baccalaureate graduates, who have received campus-wide Latin honors (summa cum laude, magna cum laude, cum laude), wear gold cords. The Chancellor’s Award of Distinction recipients wear the blue and gold shoulder cord. Those who have received academic unit awards and prizes, or who have been elected to honor societies, wear blue cords.

Graduate candidates receiving the Dean’s Scholar award wear two gold cords and those receiving the Beta Gamma Sigma award wear a blue and gold cord. Silver cords are for shareholders of the Dean’s Leadership Circle.


From its origins in the Middle Ages, the club shaped staff known as a mace has gradually taken on ceremonial character as a symbol of authority. In an American tradition begun in 1789 by the first Speaker of the House, the U.S. House of Representatives’ mace is one of the oldest symbols of our nation’s government, and is used both to open all sessions of the House and in the inaugural ceremonies for all Presidents of the United States.

The UCI Alumni Association, with the assistance of Associate Vice Chancellor Student Affairs Emeritus Chuck Pieper and Scenic Shop Supervisor Keith Bangs of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, presented the UC Irvine Mace to the campus on May 12, 2000. While the silver orb at the top of the staff might be the first thing to catch the eye, the staff itself is memorable and unique. Carved from California oak, it is fashioned to resemble the nose of an anteater, the school mascot. The UC Irvine Mace was first carried at the 2000 Commencement ceremonies by the president of the UCI Alumni Association, Deborah Daniel. The Mace is always carried by a distinguished UC Irvine alumnus or alumna and leads the Commencement processional.

Looking for Grad Gifts?
Check out the UCI bookstore for Merage School apparel and accessories or visit the FAQ page on this site for flowers and leis at the ceremony.

Gift for Your Grad
Giving from recent graduates and their families is a treasured tradition at all prominent Universities. Today you can pay it forward and pave the way for the next generation by making a donation to the programs that helped shape your experience at the Merage School.

Merage School Alumni Network
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Dean's Leadership Circle
Graduation is just the beginning. Continue to invest in your career, connect with global leaders and grow your network as a member of the Dean’s Leadership Circle. (Members receive reserved VIP seating for their family and friends at commencement)

UC Irvine Alumni Network
The UC Irvine campus offers additional alumni benefits for a small fee to expand your network even further.