Academic Dress

Students in full regalia at commencement for section on the academic dress worn at commencement

Academic dress, also known as academic regalia, originated in Medieval European universities during the 14th century, when commencement ceremonies were associated with religious ordination. 

To this day, universities in Europe and the United States continue the tradition of wearing special robes, caps and hoods for formal academic occasions. European scholars still dress in the unique styles and colors of their individual institutions, but U.S. colleges and universities have standardized the cap and gown to create a uniform look nationwide.

The Gown

The typical academic gown is black, but some institutions choose colored gowns to signify certain colleges, universities or degrees. Bachelor’s and master’s gowns are plain, although sometimes worn with honor cords or medallions. The doctoral gown is trimmed down the front and around the sleeves with bands of velvet, either in black or a color associated with the graduate’s field of study. Sleeve styles also vary with the degree: pointed sleeves on the bachelor’s gown; short sleeves for the master’s; and round, full sleeves for the doctoral robe.

The Hood

Graduates holding master’s and doctoral degrees also typically wear a hood that fits around the neck in front and drapes down over the robe in back. The hood lining displays colors associated with particular schools. Chevrons in a second color indicate a dual emphasis, while colored velvet edging on the hood corresponds to the graduate’s field of study. The doctoral hood is longer than the master’s hood, and trimmed with additional velvet panels. 

The trim colors seen on doctoral gowns and hoods also represent specific areas of study, as follows:

  • Doctor of Audiology – spruce green
  • Doctor of Divinity – scarlet
  • Doctor of Education – light blue
  • Doctor of Fine Arts – brown
  • Doctor of Humane Letters – crimson
  • Doctor of Laws – purple
  • Doctor of Letters – white
  • Doctor of Music – pink
  • Doctor of Medicine – green
  • Doctor of Philosophy – dark blue
  • Doctor of Science – golden yellow
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine – gray 

The Cap

The standard cap worn with academic regalia is the mortar board in black. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree wear a red and black tassel to represent SDSU school colors and graduates with a master’s degree wear an all-black tassel. Doctoral graduates wear a tam with a gold tassel.

Ceremonial Mace

The ceremonial mace, a symbol of university scholarship and integrity since the 11th century, is carried at the head of the academic procession at commencement and other special occasions to signify the importance of the event and the values of the university. 

SDSU’s mace was designed and handcrafted for the university by Michael Rybicki, an alumnus of the Master of Fine Arts jewelry and metalsmithing program. 

The mace takes the iconic image of Hepner Hall as its main inspiration. Hepner Hall stands at the historic heart of the campus. A stylized silhouette of the bell tower, made of four curved sheets of sterling silver, sits atop a silver bowl formed by the traditional skill of hand raising — a metalworking method dating back thousands of years. The sleek curves of the tower resting on the hand-hammered bowl represent the blending of SDSU’s proud history with its modern and forward-facing scholarship, research and community engagement. These sculptural elements sit atop a turned and carved walnut handle.

Presidential Medallion

Presidential Medallion

The medallion worn by President Adela de la Torre at commencement was designed for her installation as the ninth president of SDSU on April 11, 2019. It was designed and created by metalsmith graduate student Rex Arthur Ramos. 

The nine waves of the medallion represent the past and current nine presidents of SDSU, each bringing a new wave of leadership. The circular shape of the medallion symbolizes a globe while iconic Hepner Hall encompasses this shape, reinforcing SDSU's global influence. SDSU is depicted at the very center of this globe on an abstract map of the local region. 

The inclusion of the border represents a university with many different cultures, while the coastal line signifies the nature that surrounds SDSU. The contemporary look of the medallion reflects a vision of the future for SDSU guided by President de la Torre.