Commencement: A color commentary

Published 1:21 pm Friday, May 3, 2019

A few years ago, I wrote a brief essay about graduation on a college campus and focused primarily on the beauty and spectacle of the colors associated with faculty academic regalia.

For half a century as a professional in higher education administration and teaching, I participated in 75 or more graduation exercises on college and university campuses in Tennessee, Florida, and South Carolina.

Now, as students, their families, and college faculty are engaged in another season of graduations, maybe the recycling of that essay is timely.

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As a first-generation college graduate, the first commencement I attended was one at Lincoln Memorial University in 1953. I had completed my undergraduate studies and on that day in June, I received my diploma. It was a cause for celebration, but I doubt that I noticed the brilliant colors of the academic hoods.

Since then my career in higher education included service at a medium size state university, a large public community college, and a small private liberal arts college. At each, my interest in and support of students was heightened by their experiences at commencement.

One of my discoveries about graduation hoods and the many brilliant colors that are worn by faculty was this: The color drab didn’t seem to fit in. But indeed, the color associated with commerce, accounting, and business is drab.

As a child, I can remember that the word drab had a different meaning.

My mother might use the word to describe a place that was dull or people that were colorless. Later, I would learn that the dictionary would include the definition of drab as a “…dull, light olive brown or khaki color.”

Beyond drab, look for these colors if you are attending graduation ceremonies this month: light blue for education, copper for economics, white for arts, pink for music, citron for social work, orange for civil engineering, or dark blue for political science. If there are large numbers of faculty members in the processional, their hoods will provide a display of rainbow proportions.

Any way you view the display, on this special occasion you are among a select crowd witnessing the beauty, symbolism, and significance of an important day in the lives of the student graduates and their families and in the lives of those who teach at the college level.

William H. Baker is a native of Claiborne County and former resident of Middlesboro. Email: