Caps & Gowns, Hoods & Cords: A Guide to Commencement

This Sunday, several thousand people will process through Gesling Stadium for Carnegie Mellon University’s 122nd Commencement Ceremony. Among them will be faculty, students, university leaders and honorary degree recipients.

Nearly all will be dressed in black, but their academic rank will be identifiable by noting a few subtle differences in their regalia.

The bachelor’s degree recipient wears a plain black gown with a bell sleeve and a red tassel on the cap, or mortar board, and no hood.

The master’s degree recipient wears a black tassel, a colored hood and a gown that has a visibly odd sleeve. The rear of the sleeve is oblong in shape, square-cut and closed off with a cut-out arc. Hood color varies, depending on the field of academic study. At Carnegie Mellon, the primary hood colors for master’s degree recipients are:

Brown - College of Fine Arts, except music;
Drab (light brown) - Tepper School of Business;
Golden Yellow - School of Computer Science or Mellon College of Science;
Lemon Yellow - Heinz College of Information Systems & Public Policy;
Pink - School of Music;
Orange - College of Engineering; and
White - Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The doctoral degree recipient’s gown has velvet facing down the front and three velvet bars on each sleeve. The blue doctoral hood is longer and wider than the master’s hood, and the tassel on the cap is gold.

A feature unique to Carnegie Mellon hoods is they are all lined with Tartan plaid.

Faculty and university leaders who have doctoral degrees may choose to wear a tam instead of the cap, or mortar board. Various stoles and cords may be draped over anyone’s gown. Cords signify academic honors, while stoles may represent athletics or country of origin.

Those in the procession wearing regalia that is not black are likely to be faculty wearing the colors of the school from where they received their highest degree. Four bars on the sleeve indicate the wearer is or was a university president.

The master’s degree recipient typically wears a hood in the color that represents their school or college. The robe has an oddly shaped sleeve.

The doctoral degree recipient can be indentified by the blue hood, velvet facing down the front of the robe and a gold tassel on the cap.

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