Academic gowns represent a tradition handed down from the universities of the Middle Ages. Much of the American academic costume is derived from regalia worn at British universities.
The usual color for academic gowns in the United States is black. The shape of the sleeve is the distinguishing mark of the gowns: bachelor, long pointed sleeve; master, oblong, square cut in back with an arc cut away in front; doctor, bell shaped with velvet trim.
A few universities have selected more colorful robes for students who earn a doctorate at the institution. You will see quite a few robes of varying hues when the Kenyon faculty line up for processions.
Caps are black and typically square, though some faculty sport other shapes. Special purple beefeater caps are worn by Kenyon trustees when attending formal ceremonies.
The shape and size of the hood marks the college degree of the wearer. The hoods are lined with the color of the institution from which the wearer received his or her degree. The color of the trimming on the collar of the hood — the piece that rests against the throat — indicates the type of degree the wearer received.
Marshals are faculty members who guide students, and their fellow faculty members through formal occasions of the year.
The senior marshal works with administrators, such as the Commencement coordinator, throughout the year to organize ceremonial logistics, observe official protocol and maintain Kenyon traditions.
A president's garb during ceremonial functions is designed to indicate that they are the head of the institution. In addition to Kenyon's colors, the president wears a medallion, symbolizing the executive authority, bearing an engraving of the College shield encircled with the Latin identifier Sigillum Collegii Kenyonensis MDCCCXXIV - Sigil (or Seal) of Kenyon College, 1824.
The medallion is pendant on a chain of office, whose links are engraved with the names of all those who have served as Kenyon's president.
President Decatur's robe is Kenyon purple, with darker purple velvet trim, worn with a beefeater cap. His doctoral sleeves have four velvet chevrons instead of the traditional three of a PhD robe to signify his office.
Kenyon's shield and motto pay tribute to the College's founder, Episcopal Bishop Philander Chase, and Kenyon's early benefactors. The Latin motto, Magnanimiter Crucem Sustine, is translated as "Valiantly bear the Cross."
The College's current shield — which differs from Chase's original, seen in a carving on the facade of Hanna Hall — was adapted from Lord Kenyon's family coat of arms and officially adopted by the College's Board of Trustees in 1937. The open book, representing learning, bears the motto and rests on a bishop's staff.
Ceremony flagbearers are students who volunteer to carry the college flags and banners in the traditional Kenyon processions throughout the year. Their garb is based on medieval clerical vestments — a white alb (robe) with rope cinctures at the waist, covered by a long tabbard in Kenyon purple with a gold cross embroidered over the heart.
The Pealers are students who work throughout the year to learn the change ringing of the bells in the steeple of the Church of the Holy Spirit. The bells are played for all college ceremonies.
Singing is a deeply rooted tradition at Kenyon, as evidenced by the multiple singing groups that have existed for many years. For generations, the first and last "sings" of a student's career at Kenyon have remained the most treasured.
Each entering class gathers on the steps of Rosse Hall to sing the traditional songs of Kenyon during its orientation program.
Four years later, following Baccalaureate, the graduating members of the class gather there again to sing on the day before Commencement.
How did this tradition start? Read a short history of the First Year and Senior Sing.