Campus News

Did You Know? The UK Commencement Version


LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 6, 2010) - As the University of Kentucky gears up to celebrate the more than 6,000 Wildcats who will enter their alumni phase of life on Saturday, questions always come up about different commencement procedures and the history of UK's ceremony. We've gathered a few of the most frequently asked questions here as well as some historical milestones in UK's Commencement history.

For complete information about UK's 143rd Commencement, visit

What are the graduates wearing and what does each style of robe signify?

Every participant in the University of Kentucky Commencement will be attired in the traditional basic-black academic cap and gown. But the caps and gowns may be adorned by sleeves, tassels and hoods that bespeak the degree he or she is receiving or currently holds.

The sleeves of gowns identify the type of degree the graduate will receive. The gown for bachelor's degrees has pointed sleeves, and is designed to be worn closed. The master's degree gown has an oblong sleeve, open at the wrist, with the rear part of the sleeve being square cut and the front part having a cut-away arc. This gown is designed to be worn either open or closed. The doctor's degree gown has a bell-shaped sleeve that bears three velvet bars, which are usually black but can be other colors, depending on the degree.

Originally intended to shield the wearer from inclement weather, the hood now hangs loosely along the shoulders and back. The bachelor's hood is rather short with a narrow velvet edging that bears the color of the wearer's college. The lining has the blue-and-white colors of the University of Kentucky.

Considerably longer than the bachelor's, the master's hood has a wider velvet edging that exposes more of the lining. The outside velvet trim color identifies the degree the wearer is receiving.

The doctor's hood is identifiable by the even-wider velvet edging, wide panels at either side, greater length and the full exposure of the lining. The edging's colors most frequently are blue for philosophy, green for medicine and purple for law.

Honorary degree recipients do not wear their hoods until after the degrees are conferred. Part of the honorary-degree ceremony includes the candidate being vested with the hood. Honorary doctor's degree hoods are purple for law; white for arts, letters and humanities; and golden yellow for science.

What do the different colored tassels mean?

Tassels on caps have the following colors, identifying the wearer with his or her college:

            Apricot - Nursing

            Black - Public Health

            Brown - Fine Arts

            Blue Violet - Design

            Citron - Social Work

            Crimson - Communications and Information Studies, Journalism

            Drab - Business and Economics

            Gold - Arts and Sciences, Sciences

            Green - Medicine

            Lemon - Communications and Information Studies, Library Science

            Light Blue - Education

            Light Green - Health Sciences

            Lilac - Dentistry

            Maize - Agriculture

            Maroon - Agriculture, Human Environmental Sciences

            Olive Green - Pharmacy

            Orange - Engineering

            Purple - Law

            Silver/Gray - Communications and Information Studies, Communication

            White - Arts and Sciences, Arts

Who is leading the processional into commencement and what is she carrying?

The University Marshal, Lois Chan, leads the student and faculty processions carrying a ceremonial mace. This practice dates from the 11th Century, when the mace, previously a bludgeon used in medieval warfare, became a symbol of protection for kings and dignitaries. It eventually was adopted by universities, with its ceremonial qualities being included in the graduation processions at American universities.

What is the significance of the medallion that President Todd is wearing?

President Lee T. Todd Jr. also wears a special medallion that bears the University seal. The medallion was a gift to UK's eighth president, Otis Singletary, from Robert McCowan, a former Board of Trustees member.


Why is President Todd's robe gray and red?

Each university has a distinct design for their doctoral robes. President Todd's gown is red and gray because he earned his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and that that is their institution's unique design.

University of Kentucky Commencement Historical Milestones

·         UK's first commencement exercises were held in 1869 and honored one graduate.

·         In 1889, graduates formed the Alumni Association.

·         In the early 1900's, an alumni banquet was hosted during commencement week to welcome new graduates into alumni life.


·         In 1901, prior to UK's 33rd Commencement, Richard Stoll, an alumnus on the Board of Trustees, introduced the format for Commencement that is still used today.

·         1910's commencement was the last one presided over by UK's first President James K. Patterson. At the time of his retirement, he was longest serving college president at any American university.

·         In 1913, UK freshmen and sophomores began a tug-of-war competition in Clifton Pond as part of the Commencement week festivities.

·         In 1951, Commencement was held in Memorial Coliseum for the first time. This tradition continued until 2004 when Commencement was moved to Rupp Arena.

·         UK's president hosted commencement teas on the lawn of Maxwell Place until the 1960's.

·         In 1987, the number of degrees awarded to women exceeded the number of degrees awarded to men for the first time at UK.

·         For the first time in 2010, graduates are encouraged to connect during Commencement via Twitter, Facebook and Posterous. Tweet about your experiences using the hash tag #ukgrad on Follow the University's official Twitter account @UniversityofKy for updates regarding Commencement. Invite your friends and family to attend Commencement on Facebook. Click here for the official Facebook event invitation. Share your pictures by emailing them to