George Williams College

Academic Customs and Traditions


The commencement ceremony begins with a formal academic procession. At Aurora University, degree candidates enter first and are followed by trustees, faculty, and stage party. The university's president is the final person to enter the tent. The president is preceded by a university official, who carries the ceremonial mace. The president wears the institution's presidential chain as a symbol of the university's authority.

The Presidential Chain

The presidential chain prominently features gold ivy leaves. Early in the 20th century, professor of Greek and Latin John W. Beach suggested that ivy leaves growing on the outside of Eckhart Hall could be awarded to students showing exceptional academic achievement each semester. In 1932, Aurora College created the Gold Ivy Leaf Award. The tradition continues today as the university recognizes its most outstanding students each spring at the Honors Convocation.

Three medallions tell the story of Aurora University. One features the Aurora College seal and another the George Williams College seal. There are striking similarities to the two emblems. One features a torch and the other a lamp of learning, powerful testimony to our understanding that education is a source of illumination and truth — the transformative power of learning. The two college seals find their final expression in the new Aurora University emblem encircled with the signature AU blue. In higher education, presidential chains and medallions indicate that the wearer is the highest office holder at institutional ceremonies.

The Academic Ceremonial Mace

The university mace was designed to represent the founding schools of Aurora University - Aurora College and George Williams College. The mace, originally a weapon used in the middle ages, has over the centuries become a symbol of order and authority. The design of the center head of the mace links Aurora College and George Williams College to Aurora University. The center head also includes the university seal. The mace is carried by a university official in the processions that begin and end academic exercises such as convocation and commencement and immediately precedes the president. When it is not being used in university ceremonies, the mace is displayed in the president's office.


At Aurora University, academic regalia is worn on ceremonial occasions, in a manner consistent with a tradition that finds its origins in the Middle Ages. As early as 1321, university degree holders wore costumes designed to reflect their particular status and roles. In addition to signaling differences in rank, the garments also served functional purposes. For example, the long gown provided necessary warmth in the drafty buildings of the time. Since each institution of higher learning was free to develop its own distinctive regalia, many different forms of academic dress are found within the European tradition.

American colleges and universities opted for a greater degree of uniformity. Their representatives gathered at Columbia University in 1895 to devise common standards for academic regalia. In the United States, gowns distinguish the rank of the wearer. For instance, the bachelor's gown is unadorned and is characterized by wide sleeves that are pointed at the hem. The gowns worn by master's degree recipients also are unadorned, but have curiously elongated sleeves. Doctoral gowns are trimmed with velvet facings down the front. Their bell-shaped sleeves are trimmed with three velvet bars across the sleeves.

Graduates of most American colleges and universities wear black gowns. However, some institutions provide for special variations. For example, doctoral recipients from Harvard University wear crimson gowns; those from Yale University wear blue; and individuals holding doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University wear maroon and purple respectively.

Black mortarboards are standard to most institutions of higher learning, although some feature soft velvet tams or Elizabethan caps. Traditionally, candidates for degrees wear the tassels on their mortarboards on the right, while those upon whom degrees have been conferred wear them on the left. Recipients of doctoral degrees may wear either black or gold tassels.

Hoods provide the color in an academic procession. These garments, which today serve only ceremonial purposes, are worn fastened at the front of the collar and draped over the shoulders in such a way as to display the linings, which represent the color of the university awarding the degree. The hoods also have velvet linings in colors that represent particular disciplines or fields of study. Those worn by graduates in arts and letters, for example, are trimmed in white velvet, while those worn by degree recipients in education are trimmed in light blue velvet.