When I think back to my graduation ceremony, the graduation cap is one of the most iconic images that stand out. These colorful caps, also known as mortarboards, are a part of virtually every high school and college graduation ceremony.
The Fascinating History of the Graduation Cap
But did you know that this graduation tradition has a long and fascinating history? Explore why we wear these funny headpieces and learn more about their historical significance.
The Origins of the Graduation Cap
The tradition of wearing a mortarboard dates back to the 14th century!
At this time, universities were becoming more popular across Europe. To indicate their academic success, students began wearing special hats with squares on top—called “mortarboards” because they resembled boards used by brick masons (or “mortar-layers”) to hold their mortar while they worked.
Over time, these hats became associated with academic achievement and were eventually adopted by universities worldwide.
Modern Day Mortarboards
Today’s modern-day mortarboards look quite different than those worn by 14th-century students!
Nowadays, they are made from stiffened black cloth, with a tassel or ribbon attached at the top.
Some schools also allow students to decorate their caps with unique designs or messages—a great way to express individuality during an otherwise traditional event!
The Significance of Mortarboard Colors
Have you ever noticed that each graduate wears a cap in a different color? This is no coincidence—the colors represent each student’s course of study!
For example, many universities assign black and gold for business majors, purple for fine arts majors, light blue for nursing majors, etc. No matter what your major is (or was), your mortarboard will proudly display it!
It’s amazing how much history and meaning can be packed into one simple graduation accessory!
Next time you attend a commencement ceremony (or if you’re lucky enough to participate in one!) be sure to take note of all the colorful mortarboards on display – each one holds its own unique story behind it.
From its origins in 14th-century Europe to its current status as an integral part of modern-day graduation ceremonies worldwide, the humble mortarboard is an important symbol for scholars everywhere!