History of Commencement


The University of New Mexico's first commencement in 1894 took place in Grant's Opera House in downtown Albuquerque. Over the past century, the ceremonies have occurred in a number of locales, including the original Rodey Hall, Tight Grove, the Art Building Quadrangle, Zimmerman Stadium, Carlisle Gym, University Arena and University Stadium.

At that first commencement, six graduates of the Normal Department received the degree of Bachelor of Pedagogy. (The Territory of New Mexico had no public high schools when it created its university in 1859, so UNM's first students were teenagers in high school-equivalent courses and young people, mostly women, studying to become teachers. The first graduation of the College Department was not until several years later.)

Students processing.

The colorful academic procession is formed under the direction of faculty marshals, who wear da Vinci caps which display the colors of the University of New Mexico. Academic regalia has its beginnings in the Middle Ages. When the English universities were taking form in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the scholars were also clerics and adopted robes similar to those of their monastic orders. Caps were a necessity in the drafty buildings, and copes or capes with hoods attached were needed for warmth. The hood was selected by these early scholars as the article to be made distinctive for the various degrees by its color, trimming, and binding. As the universities gradually passed from the control of the ecclesiastics, regalia took on brighter hues, and even today the robes of Oxford and Cambridge remain among the most colorful of all.

The use of academic regalia in the United States has been continuous since Colonial times. The idea of a well-defined system, however, did not arise until about 1893 when an intercollegiate commission was formed which prepared a uniform code for caps, gowns and hoods designed to show not only the various degrees but the sources of the degrees as well. The commission offered its code to all institutions of higher learning and it was soon adopted.

The cap, originally round, is now a square mortarboard and is the same for all degrees. Gowns and hoods, however, are markedly different for the respective degrees. The hood not only varies in length and design for the various degrees, but the color and width of the velvet binding or edging of the hood indicate the degree it represents.

The hood not only indicates the type of degree but is lined with the official color or colors of the university conferring the degree, this to be charged with a chevron or chevrons when the institution uses more than one color. For example, the official University of New Mexico colors are cherry and silver, so the hood is lined with silver gray with a chevron of cherry red.

Another picture of graduating students.

In the case of today's candidates for Bachelor's degrees, hoods are not worn, but the color of the cap tassel serves the same purpose in identifying the wearer's degree. Candidates for Master's degrees wear hoods and have black cap tassels. Doctors are hooded and have gold cap tassels. University Honors students are identified by a silver tasseled cord worn over the academic robe.

The procession is led by the University Secretary and the Faculty Senate President who carries the University Mace. The mace, originally a medieval weapon and later carried by sergeants at arms guarding kings and high church officials, gradually assumed a purely ceremonial character symbolizing authority. When used in academic processions, the mace usually precedes the entire procession.

The University of New Mexico Mace was designed and crafted for presentation at the Centennial Convocation in 1989 by Ralph Lewis, professor emeritus of art. The cherry wood staff is crowned by a silver stylized yucca blossom connected by bronze casting to a silver replica of the University seal. Views of six campus sites are etched in a silver band at the top of the wooden shaft. The foot of the mace is silver with a turquoise accent.