The way to wear a graduation cap is with pride! First, you have accomplished the work required to graduate, whether from high school or other levels of higher education. Your cap recognizes and shows others what you have done. Second, in wearing a graduation cap, you are joining a community with a centuries-old history of solidarity and accomplishment. Your cap demonstrates your membership in the historic tradition of scholars since the Middle Ages. Throw it in the air to celebrate–but catch it and keep it as a wonderful way to remember who you have become.

1. Wear your cap in the traditional way, keeping the square top flat, rather than tipped back on your head. You can tip it back or cock it at an angle after the ceremony is over–it’s now yours. Until then, just like your gown and tassel, it’s part of history. It’s called a mortarboard and gets part of its design from the caps worn by masons and bricklayers in the Middle Ages. The flat top was practical–a place to pile up the cement-like mortar you needed to put bricks or stones together. Reach up to your mortarboard, or that of your partner, with your trowel, and spread the mortar between bricks. A man who had earned a mortarboard was a trained member of an early craft guild, and the mortarboard showed his pride in his trade.

2.Either place the cap’s tassel on the left side of your cap or follow the directions you are given by your school. Medieval university students wore a variety of caps and hoods, usually ending their careers with a squared-off soft cap with a tassel. Like the headgear of other medieval crafts and professions, the cap was something you earned through mastering work. In the academic world, you also earned the right to move the tassel from the student-side (before graduation) to the scholar-side (after the ceremony). Schools in the US and UK differ in which side is which, and it may change with the level of the degree, but it’s a good feeling to move the tassel to its new place.

3. Ideally, wear your cap with respect. Students have always been tempted to use the square top as ad-space, for themselves or their favorite causes. If that is the tradition at your school, feel free to join in–but you may want to make it easy to remove your decorations. What seems hilarious at 18 or socially relevant at 22 may seem embarrassing in 20 years when you are a parent talking to your own children about graduation.

4. Wear your cap till everyone has taken the pictures they want–even the talkative aunt having trouble with the lens cap. You’re part of an important celebration, and, no matter what it does to your hair, your cap is an important part of that celebration. No one graduates alone–friends, teachers and family all play a part in your growth and education, and this lets them share in your pride. History, tradition, celebration, all from a cap–what a happy surprise.

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