The Meaning of Graduation Cords

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Graduating, whether high school, college, or with an advanced degree, is an important day for everyone involved. Graduation ceremonies are filled with traditions such as moving the tassel from one side of the cap to the other or the cords that graduates wear around their necks. These graduation cords come in numerous colors and signify a wide range of things.


History of Graduation Ropes

A clergyman wears a red sash over his robe.
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While graduation cords are an essential part of graduation regalia today, they did not start off as part of the graduation ceremony. Graduation regalia including multicolored cords originated in religious ceremonies. Primarily used in the Catholic and Anglican churches, cords, stoles, hoods, and winged sleeves helped distinguish between varying levels of clergy members. When these forms of dress jumped into the academic setting, only those who had attained a master's degree or higher wore them.


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Majors and Minors

A graduate wears a yellow tassle.
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One of the primary purposes of graduation cords is to distinguish one's major or minor. Almost every major or minor uses a specific color to represent a given field of study in a ceremonial setting. For graduation ceremonies, cords, hoods, or stoles are worn by graduates to denote their major or minor. Some of the most common colors of cords include science gold, drab and white. Science gold is used to represent criminology, environmental science, industrial arts, military science, physics, police science and general science.


Drab is worn by individuals in the fields of industrial and labor relations, commerce, accounting, business administration, commercial science, and business education. White is worn by those graduating with a major or minor in the arts, English, history, letters, literature and sociology.


Grade Point Average

Three esteemed graduates wear white tassles.
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At both the high school and undergraduate levels, and occasionally in masters or doctoral programs, students are given recognition for their grade point average while in school. Three distinctions commonly exist: cum laude; magna cum laude; and summa cum laude.


While each institution can adjust the scale it uses when recognizing these honors, commonly a 3.5 to 3.7 grade point average is cum laude, 3.71 to 3.9 is magna cum laude and anything higher than 3.9 is summa cum laude. During a graduation ceremony, students wear graduation ropes distinguishing themselves as graduates with a high grade point average. The color of these cords is determined by the institution.



Honors and Organizations

A female graduate wears a crimson sash and tassle.
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Colleges and universities that include an honors program frequently recognize those graduating from this program through the use of a specific cord. Students commonly wind their honors program cord and their major or minor cord together to create one multicolored cord. Other honor programs may require graduates to wear special cords. For example, graduates who are also members of Lambda Pi Eta, a nationally recognized honor society for communication majors, may also wear crimson colored cords on graduation day.


Explanation of Specific Regalia

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Look at the program provided during the graduation ceremony for a list of specific types of regalia used. The program will explain what each cord represents in relation to the group of students graduating. Some cord colors may have multiple meanings as they may be used by several groups.



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