Academic Honors and Regalia

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The ceremonies of commencement immerse us in the rich tradition of academic honors and dress that reaches back to the early days of the world’s oldest universities.

The University of Miami awards degrees in three basic divisions: the doctorate, master’s, and baccalaureate, which can be traced to medieval times. The student receiving a “first degree in arts” was crowned with a wreath of laurel berries, hence “baccalaureate” and “bachelor.” The master’s degree was a license to teach (Licentia docendi), so the “master” was an appropriate title. The doctor was even better qualified to teach, for this degree required advanced study, independent research, and defense of a “thesis.” These standards still apply to the doctorate, except for those conferred honoris causa (as honorary degrees) for meritorious service in public or private endeavor.

Some degrees are awarded with special recognition. For those who have achieved appropriate standards in their work, the words cum laude (with praise), magna cum laude (with high praise), and summa cum laude (with highest praise) are used. Students who have met formal scholarly demands, including both specified courses and high overall grade averages, may graduate with “General Honors.” These achievements are recorded on diplomas and in official transcripts.

From medieval practice, academic dress has three items: cap, gown, and hood. In reviving the use of these items for the United States, an intercollegiate commission in 1895 drafted a code that most universities, including the University of Miami, follow.

For all degrees, the mortarboard is the traditional cap. The tassel may be gold for a doctor or may indicate the field of study.

The bachelor’s gown is black with long, pointed, open sleeves. The master’s gown is black with a long, closed sleeve hanging below the elbow. The doctor’s gown is black and is distinguished by three bars of velvet on a full sleeve.

The academic hood is the identifying symbol of the degree. Its length indicates which degree it represents: three feet for the baccalaureate, three-and-a-half for the master’s, and four for the doctorate. The lining indicates the college or university that awarded the degree. University of Miami hoods are lined in orange, green, and white. The color of the velvet band represents the academic discipline. The most frequently seen colors are white for arts, yellow for science, pink for music, sapphire blue for philosophy, purple for law, scarlet for divinity, green for medicine, light blue for education, drab for business, orange for engineering, violet for architecture, gray for general studies, and apricot for nursing.

President Julio Frenk wears a black robe with four black velvet bars. The fourth chevron indicates this is the presidential regalia. The gown features orange and green piping as well as a doctoral hood lined in orange, green and white—reflecting the official University of Miami school colors.