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Learn how to wear your cap on your graduation day



Anyone who has undergone formal education must have worn a graduation cap at some point. From preschool to the university level, the graduation cap symbolises pride. It shows that you have finished one level of education and are ready to take on another challenge. In Nigerian parlance, it means you have passed through school and school did not pass through you.

A graduation cap is a scholarly tradition that has endured since the medieval ages. Now, it is a common sight among graduates from different universities worldwide. Therefore, this article sheds more light on the graduation cap and why it became an important symbol in academia.

What is graduation cap?

What is graduation cap?

The University of New England defines a graduation cap, also known as a graduation hat, academic cap, mortarboard, or trencher, as part of the formal academic attire to be worn by graduating students (graduands) during the graduation ceremony. It is traditionally worn on the head to symbolise the successful completion of a degree, tertiary education, formal academia, and scholarly achievement.

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The origins can be traced to European scholars of the 11th century. But their caps were different from the square-shaped caps that we know today. It should be noted that those academics were regarded as the lower rungs of the Christian clergy at the time. So, they adopted the pileus—a round, brimless skullcap often worn by monks who had piously shaved their heads. However, pileus caps were becoming taller and more cylindrical, a bit shorter than a typical chef’s cap, by the 14th century. The pileus rotundus was adopted mainly by university students studying law, medicine, and the sciences.

By the mid-16th century, a new cap style began to trend in academia. It was the pileus quadratus, a soft, square cap that required less fabric to make, which quickly became a favourite among the clergy. However, Oxford University undergraduates stuck to the pileus rotundus in the 17th century while graduates with higher degrees were allowed to wear pileus quadratus. By 1675, aristocratic undergraduates were permitted to wear the square caps too.

Graduation cap decoration

Graduation cap decoration

A traditional graduation cap is designed as a horizontal square board fixed upon a skull cap, with a tassel attached to the centre. Several colours are depending on the institution. However, it is common to see different designs and decorations on a graduation cap. These decorations typically tell a story or reflect the mindset of the wearer. In other words, decorating a graduation cap is a graduate’s way of expressing themselves and celebrating their achievements.

Some graduands decorate with a quote; some decorate with their future college, while others decorate with things like their completer programs. Either way, decorating a graduation cap has become a new trend among today’s graduates.

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How to wear graduation cap

How to wear graduation cap
Photo credit: Adobe Stock

Donning a graduation cap may seem simple but there is a right and a wrong way to do it, depending on your school, field of study or graduate level. You do not want to disappoint people who want to celebrate you by wearing your cap inappropriately.

Take the following steps to wear your graduation cap:

  • Order your cap and gown, according to your size. If you are renting them, make sure they are your size.
  • For ladies, style your hair to fit the cap. Do not make hairstyles that will make wearing your cap difficult.
  • Arrange your cap so that the point is in front. The mortarboard is meant to be worn like a diamond shape.
  • Attach the tassel if your cap does not have a fixed tassel. Simply loop the circular end of the tassel over the raised button in the centre of the mortarboard
  • Make sure the cap sits evenly. The mortarboard should be flat and level with the ground while holding the cap. After wearing the cap, double-check that the band of the headpiece is symmetrical and comes to a stop about an inch above your eyebrows. Do not push the cap too forward or let it tilt to one side. To test if your cap is level, place a lightweight object on top and see if it will stay in place.
  • Position the tassel correctly. However, this depends on the tradition of your school. Generally, the tassel should be placed on the right side of your face at the beginning of the graduation ceremony. Once your class has been announced, flip the tassel to the left. Meanwhile, keep the tassel out of your eye at all times.
  • Continue wearing the cap throughout the ceremony. It is just a couple of hours and you are done.

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