This is the time of year when graduates march across the stage to collect their diplomas. A few different graduation traditions have arisen due to the pandemic, such as online ceremonies, drive-by graduations, and even drive-in graduation events. One tradition that has persisted during the season of processionals is the playing of “Pomp and Circumstance.” The term “pomp and circumstance” means impressive formal activities or ceremonies, according to Webster’s dictionary. It comes from a line in Shakespeare’s Othello recalling triumph in war. In 1901, Edward Elgar, one of the leading European composers at the time, composed a military march titled, Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D. Elgar included the music in the 1902 Coronation Ode for Britain’s Edward VII with lyrics by poet Arthur Benson, producing the patriotic song “Land of Hope and Glory.”
Four years later, the song was played when Elgar was given an honorary doctorate from Yale University. Two years later, Princeton used the tune at a graduation, followed by the University of Chicago in 1908, Columbia in 1913, Vassar in 1916, and Rutgers in 1918. By the 1920s, it had become the well-known graduation music with its trumpets and flutes that we all recognize today. It is the middle section that is often repeated over and over and has become a graduation theme song, but the entire piece is six minutes.
Another graduation tradition that has continued over time is the square graduation cap, commonly known as a mortarboard. Its origins date back to the 1600s when the first colleges in America were established and modeled after English institutions like Oxford and Cambridge University, including what people wore. Caps in varying styles and sizes denoted academic degrees and prestige. Today, college graduates with advanced degrees wear rounded caps, but undergraduates don the square cap. It is called a mortarboard since the square resembles the tray bricklayers use when applying mortar.
In 1912 the graduating class at the U.S. Naval Academy tossed their midshipmen hats in the air after they received their new officer caps during the ceremony. It’s believed that those officers started the tradition of tossing graduation caps.
Finally, graduation season brings with it the tradition of the commencement speech. In the U.S., early commencement speeches were given by students as a way to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Those graduating would give lengthy orations in multiple languages. The trend of celebrity commencement speeches began more recently. This year, musicians, famous alum, political leaders, and other prominent figures will deliver sage advice to graduating classes across the country. Below are some of the speakers tapped for this year’s ceremonies.
Musician John Legend delivered Duke University’s commencement address last week. Legend, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1999, received an honorary degree from Duke.
Graduates of the United States Coast Guard Academy heard from President Biden at their commencement last week.
Robert Iger, executive chairman and former CEO of Disney is slated to speak at the University of Texas.
The nation’s most famous physician, scientist, and immunologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, will deliver speeches at Vanderbilt, University of North Carolina, Emory, and Yale’s School of Public Health.
Joy Harjo, the 23rd United States Poet Laureate, will deliver the address at Smith College.
Tulane University invited famed civil rights figure Ruby Bridges, who was the youngest child among a group of Black students to first integrate schools in New Orleans, to deliver their graduation keynote speech.
Harvard and Princeton announced that alumna Ruth Simmons, Ph. D., will give this year’s address. Simmons is president of Prairie View A&M University, president emerita of both Brown University and Smith College, and one of the nation’s foremost leaders in higher education.
Journalist, author, and science policy expert Bina Venkataraman was tapped to deliver the commencement speech at the University of Southern California.
Southern Methodist University welcomed alumna and entrepreneur Whitney Wolfe Herd to deliver the keynote graduation address this year at an outdoor ceremony at Ford Stadium. Herd was the youngest woman to take a company public and is the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire.
Probity Advisors, Inc. congratulates all graduates and their families and extends our best wishes for the future. Our caps, or mortarboards, are off to you for your achievement! Cue the music.