Mace, medallion and tassel (from spring 2015 Undergraduate Commencement) photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now.

Medieval times: The history and the meaning behind the regalia of ASU’s commencement

Arizona State University may be ranked №1 in the nation for innovation, but when it comes to graduation, it goes medieval.

Consider this: The leaders of an institution of knowledge march in behind someone carrying a fearsome weapon of war. Erudite faculty are led by a banner designed as a visual aid for illiterate people in battle. And everyone wears robes originally intended to keep them warm in chilly buildings in a damp climate.

The President’s Chain of Office

The Ceremonial Mace

A mace was used in medieval times to crush heads into raspberry jam. (The movie “Braveheart” has vivid depictions of maces being used in action.)


Gonfalon photo (from fall 2015 Graduate Commencement) by Andy DeLisle/ASU


One would expect the robes and colors to be as ancient as everything else and originate in places like Perugia and Heidelberg. Shockingly, it’s all mostly American and not very old at all.

The tassel

Originally the tassel was used to repair tears in robes. Turning the tassel is a ritual within the tradition of commencement. When students can’t remember what side of the mortarboard it sits on, Werner tells them, “Left as you leave.”

Spring 2019 Commencement

Undergraduate Commencement: 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 6, at Sun Devil Stadium on ASU’s Tempe campus.

Official Medium account of ASU. № 1 in innovation. Top 10 of all universities worldwide for U.S. patents awarded. Find more ASU news at asunow.

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