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Commencement 2009


Caps, gowns, hoods and tassels are all traditional fare during
a commencement. The symbolism of such articles and the historical
aspects and traditions behind them add to the ceremonial
setting of the day. Below are some well-known traditions, and
some unique to Sonoma State University.

Introduction | The Mace | Academic Regalia | Field of Study Colors
PresidentialMedallion | University Seal | Banners | International Flags
Graduation Distinctions | SSU Hymn



Participation in Commencement activities link the graduate with ancient scholastic tradition. It is a student's time to be recognized for his or her hard work and perserverance as have all graduates over the centuries and throughout the world.

The rituals of commencement originated in Europe in the Middle Ages when the church was the center of learning. The earliest colleges in Europe and England assumed some of the customs and styles of the monasteries. The scholar's gown, for example, is held to be an adaptation of the robe of the friar or priest; the hood, the monk's cowl; and the mortarboard cap, the skullcap. Early American colleges followed many of the customs of European universities, some of which prevail today as integral features of American commencements.

The Mace

MaceSymbolic since the Middle Ages of the community of scholars, the mace is carried in academic processions at colleges and universities. At Sonoma State University, the honor of service as bearer of the mace is accorded the Chair of the Faculty.

Academic Regalia

The gown is distinctive for each of the three degree levels. The bachelor's gown is a yoked, closed-front garment with long, pointed sleeves. The master's gown can be worn open or closed and has long, oblong sleeves, usually closed but slit below the shoulders. The doctoral gown is distinguished by full, bell-shaped sleeves crossed with three velvet bars, and by velvet panels from neck to ankle. It is generally black, although some universities have their own colors.

The mortarboard cap, in black, is the most accepted style of headdress in colleges and universities throughout the United States. Many foreign universities have other distinctive and colorful forms of headdress. The TASSEL, fastened to the center of the cap and usually black, indicates whether the degree has been conferred. If the wearer has graduated, the tassel is worn on the left; if not, it is worn on the right. The tassel on the doctoral cap may be of gold thread.

The hood, draped over the wearer's shoulders and down the back, also indicates the highest degree earned. A bachelor's hood is seldom used. The doctoral hood differs from the master's in that it is longer and has flat wide panels on either side. The color and design of the silk lining of the hood indicate the college or university that conferred the degree. At SSU, the hood worn by master's degree candidates is lined in dark blue and light blue, the Sonoma State University colors.

Field of Study Colors

The color of the velvet border on the hood indicates the degree: Master of Science, gold; Master of Arts, white (Bachelor of Arts candidates do not wear a hood). A candidate's field of study is indicated by the color of their tassel (see below).

Tassel Colors:

American Multicultural Studies — Cream
Art — White
Biology (BA) White
Biology (BS) Golden Yellow
California Cultural Studies Cream
Chemistry Golden Yellow
Communication Studies Wine
Computer Science Golden Yellow
Counseling Cream
Criminal Justice Cream
Education — Light Blue
Engineering Science
Environmental Studies & Planning — Cream
French — White
Geology (BA) White
Geology (BS)Golden Yellow
Global Studies Cream
History White
Human Development White
Interdisciplinary Studies Cream
KinesiologySage Green
Liberal Studies White
Mathematics Golden Yellow
Music Pink

Grads in front row

Philosophy — Dark Blue
Physics Golden Yellow
Political Science Cream
Psychology Cream
Sociology Cream
Spanish White
Theatre Arts White
Women's and Gender Studies Cream

The Presidential Medallion

Presidential MedallionThe Presidential Medallion represents the authority and responsibility of the Office of the President of the University. Conferred upon the president by the Chancellor of the California State University at the President's inauguration, it is worn with academic dress on official occasions. Sonoma State University's president is Dr. Ruben Armiñana.

University Seal

SSU sealThe seal of the University appears on the mace, the medallion and on diplomas, official documents, the Commencement program, and other university publications. Within the seal, the soaring dove symbolizes peace or freedom of the spirit; the flaming torch represents the flame of learning; and the tree suggests the beauty and strength of the redwood which gives this region its name, the Redwood Empire. The Latin words lux mentis lux orbis mean "light of the mind, light of the world."

University and School Banners

The University's heraldic banner, carried in the procession by the recipient of the Excellence in Teaching awards (one in the morning ceremony, one in the afternoon ceremony). This banner displays the University's colors: dark blue, light blue, and white. The banners for the five academic Schools incorporate images representing each School's disciplines and the colors traditionally used on the regalia hoods of the various disciplines.

Arts and Humanities banner

The color representing the School of Arts and Humanities is white (or silver); the quill and ink well symbolize the creativity that characterizes and sustains the human spirit.


The color representing the School of Business and Economics is light tan; the design incorporates a human figure, prominent in the foreground, against a graph representing facts, figures, trends and forecasts.

Education banner

Pale blue, the academic color representing the School of Education, forms the background for a beacon of light symbolizing the role of educators in guiding the pursuit of learning.

Science and Technology banner

The color representing the School of Science and Technology is golden yellow; images representing the various disciplines of the School symbolize the life-affirming role of the natural sciences, the growth and development of students, and the connections among past, present and future.

Social Sciences banner

The color representing the School of Social Sciences is cream; the cluster of three human figures symbolizes the essential focus of the social sciences, the study of diverse peoples living and working together.

International Flags

The foreign flags displayed behind the Commencement platform each year represent the countries of origin of Sonoma State University's international student graduates of that year.

Graduation Distinctions

With Distinction

Indicated by a ­ symbol. "With distinction" is awarded to undergraduate students who are judged by the faculty of their departments to have made outstanding contributions within their field of study. Honor cords are navy with gold.

Cum laude

Meaning “with praise” and indicated by a § symbol. "Cum laude" is awarded to those students whose entire undergraduate record reflects a grade point average of 3.50 through 3.74. Honor cords are white with gold.

Magna cum laude

Meaning “with high praise” and indicated by the §§ symbol. "Magna cum laude" is awarded to those students whose entire undergraduate record reflects a grade point average of 3.75 through 3.89. Honor cords are silver with gold.

Summa cum laude

Meaning “with highest praise” and indicated by the §§§ symbol. " Summa cum laude" is awarded to those students whose entire undergraduate record reflects a grade point average of 3.90 or higher. Students graduating with these honors are distinguished by wearing a gold honors cord as part of their regalia. Honor cords are gold.

Sonoma State University Hymn

We sing to thee, Oh Alma Mater, hail, all hail.
In service with honor, long may you prevail.
You reign with faith and wisdom for the rights of mankind.
Sonoma, we hail thee.
In you great strength we find.

By Charles H. Rhinehart and Hobart "Red" Thomas.
First performed at the 1964 Commencement ceremony.