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Reasons Behind Graduation Traditions

April 2, 2019

Graduation season will soon be upon us. It's time to honor long-held graduation traditions that all started because...because...wait—why now? We were wondering the same thing, so we did a bit of internet sleuthing to answer questions about the most traditional traditions. 

Alex and Ani for Grads

What's the Most Popular Graduation Gift?

This one's no mystery. Money has long been the most popular gift for grads because everyone wants to give them a leg up as they move into the next—expensive—phase of life, whether it's college or starting real adulthood. But still, it's fun to give  a thoughtful little something along with that money. This post is sprinkled with pictures of "thoughtful little somethings" you can find at The Little Traveler. 

Graduation Cards - Graduation Traditions

Cute & Clever Cards in Our Stationery Dept.

Why the Gown?

This graduation tradition began hundreds of years ago. It's thought that gowns were originally worn for a very practical reason—to keep warm. Buildings weren't heated in the 12th & 13th centuries. The first schools to have made gowns a specific requirement were Oxford and Cambridge. By 1321, the schools had a graduation dress code in place that forbade "excessive apparel" and required long gowns to inspire unity.

Local High School Ornaments

NEW! In Year-Round Christmas. Great for Local High School & Middle School Grads

Who Started Tossing Caps?

This tradition started at a US Naval Academy graduation in 1912. Prior to then, graduates from the academy were required to serve an additional two years as midshipmen in the fleet before being commissioned as officers. Therefore, they still needed their hats. In 1912, for the first time, the students were commissioned upon graduation, so they freely tossed their hats in the air, no longer needing them and not caring if they got them back.

The tradition caught on and has stuck around as a symbol of achievement and reaching a milestone.  

College Tervis Tumblers

University Tervis Tumblers in Housewares

What's the Circumstance Behind the Pomp?

That stalwart song played at graduation ceremonies across the country is actually a small piece of a larger work written by English composer Sir Edward Elgar in 1901 ("March No. 1 in D Major," one of 5 marches in his Pomp and Circumstance series). The following year, A.C. Benson added lyrics to it in celebration of the crowning of King Edward VII. Today, this lyricized version is a British patriotic song known as "Land of Hope and Glory."

What does any of this have to do with graduations in the US? Well, in 1905, when Elgar was given an honorary doctorate by Yale University, what's now known as simply "Pomp and Circumstance" was played in his honor. Apparently, people liked what they heard because soon schools like Princeton, University of Chicago, and Columbia started using it at their graduation ceremonies. It spread from there to become part of graduation traditions across the US.

Why do we refer to diplomas as "sheepskins"?

You don't want to know. Let's just say, we're glad this is one of those graduation traditions that's become only figurative these days.

Collegiate Nuts

University Peanuts in Gourmet Foods





Little Traveler

The Little Traveler Reopening

On Tuesday, June 2, we'll gleefully reopen our Fulton Street door (the side door under the long yellow awning) to what we're calling "The Littler Little Traveler" Temporary Store Hours: Tuesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays 10am-5pm You'll have access...

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