You might not know it, but graduation is the most enduring secular ritual in the history of the world. Since sooner or later we’re all going to come face to face with the traditions that have developed to mark the end of one’s college career, I thought I would give you a little taste of the history of some of the essential components of graduation.
The Cap: Although caps have always been part of graduation ceremonies, you might be interested to hear that in 17th century France, the square cap was considered a delicacy. Eaten with crepes, it was considered appropriate for every meal. The origin of the tradition of throwing the cap into the air at the end of the ceremony can be found in feudal Japan. Traditionally, graduates from Ninja academies tossed ninja stars into the air as both an act of celebration and to eliminate some of their competition in the job market. The tradition made its way to the U.S. when it became obvious that there was no way in hell everyone was going to be able to get a job after graduation.
The Tassel: Would you believe that the tassel was originally an item found on the Passover Sedar plate. While the maror or bitter herb symbolizes the bitterness of slavery, the Tassel represents the annoyance of having a roommate incapable of flushing the toilet. As the tassel moved from the Sedar to the graduation ceremony, this symbolism persisted and gained an even greater significance. The movement of the tassel from one side of the cap to the other can be seen to represent the process of flushing that one must endure.
The Robe: Naturally, the graduation robe comes from the founders of the university in Ancient Greece. Some of the earliest evidence of this tradition can be seen in this passage from one of the last Platonic dialogues,
Elefantitus: Tell me, Socrates, what do you think courage is?
Socrates: Courage must be found in the robe you wear.
Ele: I see, the robe represents the courage I must display in even the most ordinary aspects of my life.
Soc: No, my friend. I was simply referring to the courage you show in draping your incredibly misshapen genitals with such an outlandish garb.
Pomp and Circumstance: The origin of this piece of music, played during the graduation ceremony’s procession, can be traced to the success of professional wrestling in the 1980’s. Wrestling legend Randy “Macho Man” Savage used the piece as his entry music at the beginning of his illustrious career. The use of the piece has been adopted to pay homage to the vast influence of the “Macho Man” on American education. In addition to perfecting the flying forearm, Savage also wrote the original versions of the SAT.
The Post-Graduation Meal: Numerous cultures throughout history have practiced similar rituals after the completion of the graduation ceremony. In the Philippines, graduates were subjected to circumcision. In several Native American tribes, graduates were hung on hooks by their nipples. The ancient Toltecs hurled spears at graduates. These types of rituals have been replaced in modern times by the post-graduation meal with the family. Rather than subject the graduate to extreme forms of torture, today they must simply endure several hours of continually being asked, “So, what are you going to do after graduation?” Not surprisingly, there is a movement within the United States to reinstate the use of torture as an alternative to the meal. Suggested forms include: the iron maiden, the rack, and balpeen hammer.