Pomp and Circumstance
It's Graduation time in the Philippines and everyone from day-care centres to nursery, prep and kindergarten levels and of course elementary, high school and college levels are holding 'Commencement' ceremonies and children are dressed in mortarboards and gowns (strangely in white) and be-medalled. It's all rather bizarre to see a four year old togged up like this and with a huge mortarboard on his head marching to the tune of Elgar's 'Pomp and Circumstance March' (or "Land of Hope and Glory")!
I am somewhat puzzled: why call it a Commencement when it happens at the end of the academic year? I was told it was the commencement of the rest of one's life. Well... perhaps we should have one such ceremony everyday then! I'm afraid it is yet another Americanism I shall not understand...
Looking at the mortarboards today (and I had ample time in the 4 hour ceremony!!) I was wondering why such a ridiculous looking hat should signify learning... why balance a board with a tassel on one's head?! I searched the Net but none came up with a very good reason or anything new to enlighten me. I already know that the current academic cap is an elaboration of the biretta (a clerical cap) which itself evolved from the cap used by academics (almost all clergy) to keep themselves warm and protect the clerical tonsure! The biretta (seen above) may still be used by all clergy and seminarians and indeed in the photo above, Dominican students at the CUA are seen graduating in their birettas and rightly so, that these original academic caps are used in their original context! It is said that the mortarboard evolved from the biretta, the tuft being an extension of the biretta's central pom-pom. But why the flat board?! I have yet to discover how the dignified biretta evolved this strange board that so resembles the ancient headgear of Chinese emperors!
Anyway, if you wanted to know more about the history and use of the academic cap, check out this Kiwi website...
It has to be said, the academic cap was originally for Masters, ie those who taught in colleges. Eventually, it was extended to graduates at university level. How it came to be worn by pre-school 'graduates' is a most unforseen and unnatural development of its use!!