Traditions and Symbols

The Commencement ceremony is steeped in tradition, from the academic attire to the music and the various symbols. Learn the meaning and history of these traditions here.

Academic Regalia

The regalia worn for Commencements is patterned after the gowns and hoods worn regularly in the Middle Ages by scholars for warmth in unheated buildings and as distinguishing dress denoting their place in society.

Since 1895, a uniform intercollegiate code of style and colors has been adhered to by most institutions in the United States. In accordance with this code, most academic gowns are black, although some universities permit other solid colors. Occasionally, the robe color may indicate a professional distinction, such as deep purple for law or scarlet for ecclesiastical honors. Sometimes a distinguishing device on the robe or cap indicates an individual honor or special occasion.

The baccalaureate gown is of simple cut with full, somewhat pointed sleeves. The front is closed and often no hood is worn with this gown. The mortar board head covering originated in ancient Greece, symbolizing the commitment of the scholar to a life of building. It has either a plain black tassel or one of a color indicate the subject area of the degree. The custom of shifting the cap's tassel from right to left at the time of awarding the degree is used in lieu of investing each candidate with the bachelor's hood.

The master's gown is similar to the bachelor's gown, except that the sleeves are fuller, cut square with a half-circle at the bottom and sometimes worn with the arms through a horizontal slit at elbow level.

The doctoral robe is ampler in cut with a full bell shaped sleeve, velvet panel edging in the front and three velvet stripes on each sleeve. The velvet trim may be black or in the color appropriate to the degree. The mortar board tassel for the doctorate is gold. Some American and many foreign universities use cap forms other than the mortar board, ranging from a soft velvet beret to more elaborate fringed styles, each of which has it own historical tradition.

Hoods worn over the gowns have a velvet edging, usually in a color indicating the specific degree and a lining which is partially turned out to show the colors of the college or university which granted the degree.

Some of the colors used for tassels and velvet panels to designate the degree are:

Arts and LettersWhite
BusinessDrab
DentistryLilac
EconomicsCopper
EducationLight Blue
EngineeringOrange
Fine Arts, Architecture and Urban and Regional PlanningBrown
JournalismCrimson
LawPurple
Library ScienceLemon
MusicPink
NursingApricot
PhilosophyDark Blue
Physical EducationSage Green
Physical TherapyTeal
Public AdministrationPeacock Blue
Public HealthSalmon Pink
SciencesGolden Yellow
Social WorkCitron
SpeechSilver Gray
TheologyScarlet

University Mace

The tradition of the ceremonial mace for academic institutions goes back to medieval times. Adapted in form from the ancient battle weapon used by knights, the ceremonial mace symbolized the authority of regal personages, city or ruling bodies and chief officers of chartered institutions. Originally representing vested authority during all official meetings, it eventually  came to be connected with formal ceremonies. At the Commencement ceremony, the EWU Mace will lead the procession of the platform party.

Created by Clifford Gaynard, Eastern's mace was commissioned as a gift during the centennial year to the university from the EWU Board of Trustees.

EWU mace

EWU Alma Mater

The EWU Alma Mater was composed in 1947 by alumnus George W. Lotzenhiser. Learn more about Lotzenhiser and his inspiration in "Lotzenhiser: An Eastern Original", an article featured in the September 2013 issue of Eastern.

All hail to Eastern Washington,
Thy colors red and white!

You stand as a symbol,
Of our strength and might!
All hail to Eastern Washington,
A leader brave and true!
We sing the praise of college days,
All hail to you!