For centuries, pomp and circumstance have added color and dignity to the recognition of scholastic achievement. Modern academic dress evolved from caps and gowns worn in medieval universities, which were agencies of the church. Academic gowns distinguished university personnel from townspeople who also wore gowns for daily dress during that time. The costumes of doctors and lesser clerics were not as elaborate as those prescribed for officials, but they were distinctive nonetheless. Through the centuries, the traditional pageantry has not changed much. In ancient times, each individual scholar wore special colors, fur and fabrics, as did his students. Since the traditions began, however, official standards have been documented that allow the observer to identify more about the scholar.

Three types of black gowns may be distinguished in UAF's academic procession. Certificate, associate and baccalaureate gowns have long, pointed sleeves. Master's gowns have oblong sleeves with an arc cut away in the front. Doctoral gowns are faced with velvet and have bell-shaped sleeves with three bars of velvet.

UAF’s master’s and doctoral degree candidates will receive their during the ceremony, signifying they have gone beyond the bachelor’s degree to a higher level of academic achievement. UAF’s colors are blue and gold, and these colors line the inside of each hood. The velvet trim signifies the scholar’s field of study: Master of Arts, white; Master of Business Administration, drab; Master of Education, light blue; Master of Engineering, orange; Master of Fine Arts, brown; Master of Science, yellow; and Doctor of Philosophy, dark blue.

The square Oxford cap, or mortarboard, is black and has a long tassel fastened to the middle of the top. Some colleges and universities use the soft beret, but the prevailing style of cap is the traditional mortarboard. You may notice the University of Alaska regents and some of the faculty wearing soft beret-style caps. For undergraduates receiving their first degree, the tassel is customarily worn on the right side and shifted to the left after receiving the diploma. At many institutions, colored tassels are worn to indicate the candidate’s school or college. At UAF, a blue
and gold tassel is worn on the cap for all certificate, associate, baccalaureate and master’s degrees, and gold tassels are worn for all doctoral degrees.

While you may not be able to identify the origins of each specific academic robe and hood appearing in today’s commencement ceremony, you can reflect that from the certificate recipient in a simple black gown to the Doctor of Philosophy in a velvet trimmed robe and colorful hood, students and professors alike are paying homage to more than 700 years of academic tradition.

An academic legend tells of a wise old Greek who dressed his students in mason’s sackcloth robes and mortarboards because "Their destiny is to build. Some will build cities; some will build lives — perhaps one of them will build an empire; but all will be builders on the solid foundation of knowledge."

Chancellor's medallion
During the Middle Ages, medallions signified membership in religious orders and workers’ guilds and, in the Renaissance, membership in elite orders of knighthood and prominence in government office. Today, colleges and universities strike medallions to commemorate important events and achievements or to designate a person of consequence. The UAF chancellor’s medallion signifies the authority vested in the chancellor.

Fabricated in bronze by Judie Gumm of Ester, Alaska, in 1991, the chancellor’s medallion depicts the University of Alaska seal featuring Mount McKinley, with the addition of a cluster of forget-me-nots — the state flower — at the bottom and a ribbon of aurora borealis across the sky. The medallion is held by a beaded neckpiece in a forget-me-not pattern made by Selina Alexander in the Koyukon Athabascan style. The central cord is made of tanned moosehide, covered with beads sewn together one by one and then sewn to the cord. The medallion was commissioned by Chancellor Patrick J. O’Rourke in his last year of office to reflect the Alaska roots and cultural diversity of the university’s students.

University mace
Bodyguards of French and English monarchs carried ceremonial war clubs or maces in the Middle Ages. Later, the mace became an important symbol of office in civil processions and academic pageantry. The grand marshal carries the University of Alaska mace in the commencement procession and places it in a stand on the stage during commencement ceremonies to signify the importance of the occasion.

The mace was commissioned by the University of Alaska Alumni Association in honor of the university’s 1967 Golden Anniversary and was created by UAF Professor Ron Senungetuk using silver, jade and rosewood. At the top of the mace, a disk in the center of two open orbs depicts the University of Alaska seal on one side and the Alaska state seal on the other. The materials were selected to symbolize qualities of durability, strength and beauty.

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