Commencement Traditions

Academic Attire

The wearing of caps, gowns, and hoods at college and university functions dates back to the Middle Ages. Monks and students of those days wore them to keep warm in the drafty 12th-century castles and halls of learning. 

The academic gown in America has traditionally been black, although many universities have now authorized doctoral gowns in the universities’ own colors. The maroon gowns worn by the trustees display the official color of Fordham University. The cut of the gown identifies the degree. The bachelor’s gown has pointed sleeves and is worn closed. The master’s gown has oblong-cut sleeves and is worn open or closed. The doctoral gown, which is also worn open or closed, has bell-shaped sleeves, usually crossed with bands of velvet. 

The hood is the most distinctive feature of academic attire in the United States. It was once a cowl, but is now worn only for decorative purposes, thrown over the back and suspended from the shoulders. The length of the hood indicates the level of the degree. The color of the velvet border identifies the field of learning in which the degree was earned. These colors include scarlet for theology; white for arts, letters, and humanities; brown for fine arts; gold for science; light blue for education; copper for economics; dark blue for philosophy; drab for business; citron for social service; purple for law; and lemon for library science. The inner lining of the hood proclaims the color or colors of the institution awarding the degree.

Maroon, the Official University Color

Fordham’s official color was originally magenta, but magenta was also used by Fordham’s archrival, Harvard University. Since it was considered improper for two schools to be wearing the same color, the matter was to be settled by a series of baseball games. The winning team could lay claim to magenta; the losing team would have to find a new color. Fordham won, but Harvard reneged on its promise. 

Later, in 1874, at a meeting of the student body, one of the matters discussed was that of choosing an official college color that would belong to Fordham and Fordham alone. Stephen Wall, Class of 1875, suggested maroon, a color not widely used at the time. He explained that it looked “something like claret wine with the sun shining through it.” The committee charged with determining the official college color unanimously agreed, and maroon has been the official color ever since. Ironically, Harvard also stopped using magenta in favor of crimson.

The Fordham University Mace

Maces, originally used as weapons, became ceremonial as they were borne by sergeants-at-arms, the royal bodyguards of England and France, in the 12th century. By the 14th century, maces became more decorative and were dressed up in gold and silver. Today, maces are often carried before academic bodies as a symbol of jurisdiction. The Fordham University mace is traditionally carried at the University Commencement by the President of the Faculty Senate, who serves as the Grand Marshal of the academic procession. 

Fordham’s mace, three feet in length, bears a regal crown at the summit to denote the delegated sovereignty of the University from the State of New York to grant academic degrees. Above the crown is a cross composed of four windmill sails to signify the faith and the Dutch founding fathers of New Amsterdam. The center of the cross displays a heraldic rose for Rose Hill. Immediately beneath the crown is a support with the Fordham seal emblazoned. The upper node of the staff is decorated with three heraldic roses, the Fordham seal, the ram’s head, and a silhouette of Fordham at Lincoln Center. The names of Fordham’s schools are engraved above the node, and the names of Fordham’s presidents from 1841 to 2003 are engraved below the node. The mace was a gift to the University from the Fordham University Alumni Federation. 

Fordham University Verges

The use of verges is another ritual dating back to the Middle Ages, when pageantry heralded the approach of the noble. In those days, the processions of leading citizens were commonly led by verge-carrying emissaries. A verge took the form of a unique staff emblematic of the ruling house over which the person presided. 

The University commissioned the fashioning of verges to be carried by the marshals of its academic processions to mark the inauguration of Joseph M. McShane, S.J., as the 32nd president of Fordham. The Fordham University verges stand 48 inches tall and measure one inch in diameter. They are cast in aluminum with brass fittings. Each verge is a perfectly balanced staff designed to be carried by the lead marshal over their right shoulder. 

The verges’ top center medallions are etched with the Great Seal of the University on one side and a historic version of the University’s mascot (the Ram) on the other. The ram’s head depicted on the verges is based on an image that appears on the antique iron doors of Dealy Hall. Under the ram’s head are two scrolls similar to the scroll found on the Great Seal of the University. The upper, and larger, scroll on each of the verges bears the name of one of the nine schools of the University; the lower, and smaller, scroll bears the year of the school’s founding. The remaining verges are carried by representatives of the major groups within the Fordham family that serve the University and its students: the Board of Trustees, the faculty, the administration, and the alumni. 

The Victory Bell

The ringing of the Victory Bell signals the beginning of the University Commencement. Presented to Fordham by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, LL.D., Class of 1944, the ship’s bell of the Japanese warship Junyo stands in front of the gymnasium on the Rose Hill campus. On 11 May 1946, the Charter Centenary of the University, President Harry S. Truman became the first to ring the Victory Bell on campus. Today, it traditionally peals following Ram victories. 

Edwards Parade

Edwards Parade, formerly the University’s football field, was laid out as a traditional college quadrangle in 1930 and named for Major General Clarence R. Edwards. An instructor of Fordham’s military cadets in the 1890s, Edwards later commanded the 26th Yankee Division in World War I.

The Terrace of the Presidents

Robert Gannon, S.J., president of Fordham University from 1936 to 1949, initiated the custom of engraving the granite steps between Edwards Parade and the Keating Hall Terrace with the names of heads of state who have received honorary doctorates from Fordham. Among the names included are President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1940), President Harry S. Truman (1946), President Corazon Aquino of the Philippines (1986), President Mary Robinson of Ireland (1995), President Mary McAleese of Ireland (2010), President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines (2011), and President Hage G. Geingob, FCRH ’70, of Namibia (2015). 

Keating Hall

Built in 1936, Keating Hall was named for Joseph Keating, S.J., University treasurer from 1910 to 1948. The offices of Fordham College at Rose Hill, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Fordham School of Professional and Continuing Studies, the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education, and the Summer Session are housed in Keating Hall.