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Cecil College

Why Graduates Dress the Way They Do

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Cecil College
Cecil College class of 2015. Cecil College via Flickr // Public Domain

My mind and my time have been preoccupied this week because my older daughter is graduating from high school this weekend. I’ve been to her art show, awards ceremony, spring concert, banquets, parties, the baccalaureate service, and still have more to come. We’ve assembled a dress, mortarboard, tassel, gown, stole, and honor cords to wear. It’s hard to remember, but both my graduations back in the ‘70s seemed simpler. I could have worn the same cheap black gown for both high school and college graduation. And the same gold tassel, too.

BYU-Hawaii Class of 2011. BYU–Hawaii via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

While students usually buy a fairly inexpensive version of the traditional cap and gown to be worn once, my father was a college professor and invested in a costly black wool academic ensemble that could be worn again and again. After all, he attended commencement ceremonies three times a year for 30 years. I always felt sorry for him during hot graduation days with long-winded speakers. At colleges and universities today, you may see a wide variety of academic gowns and colors. Oh, the graduating students will wear mostly the same type of gowns, but professors and visiting dignitaries will often wear the academic attire of the institution they graduated from, possibly decades ago. And among the students, there will be colors assigned to their discipline, gown styles assigned by degree, and different stoles and cords to indicate honors and affiliations.

The first real universities were born of religious orders in the 12th and 13th centuries. The uniform of the student was therefore the garb of a initiate or a monk, meaning a long plain robe with a hood, with a cap and/or a stole added along the way to indicate rank. As more universities were founded by different religious orders, the uniforms became more varied. Even today, the traditional styles of graduation dress at European schools depend on long running tradition within the institution, and vary widely between colleges.

In America in the 18th century, students wore their academic caps and gowns to all classes. By the turn of the 19th century, this started to give away to wearing the gown only on designated days, and after the Civil War only for occasions in which one represented his university or graduation ceremonies.

Oxford College senior class 1907. Miami University Libraries - Digital Collections via Flickr // Public Domain

Each college developed their own traditions and therefore their own academic costumes. Over time, as colleges proliferated, the ceremonial gowns varied so greatly that they were recognized by few outside the particular campus. In 1895, a plan was conceived to standardize the academic wear of American colleges and universities, which helped to set the cap and gown style we all recognize today. The standards were based on the traditions at Columbia University. Different configurations were set for the gown and hood to recognize the wearer’s academic rank and degree, and colors were assigned to signify the wearer’s discipline. However, the Academic Costume Code (adopted in 1932) recognizes that there is no authority to enforce the code and that variances will occur among schools.

It should be noted that it is impossible (and probably undesirable) to lay down enforceable rules with respect to academic costume. The governing force is tradition and the continuity of academic symbols from the Middle Ages.

The tradition should be departed from as little as possible, not only to preserve the symbolism of pattern and color, but for practicality as well (when radical changes are adopted manufacturing problems and scarcity of inventory may ensue).

College of Business and Technology Class of 2009. College of Business and Technology via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Changes occurred, alright. Schools began to distinguish themselves by using gowns in the school colors instead of the recommended black. But the basic shape stayed to signify what the gown meant.

Berkeley High School class of 2012. Berkeley Unified School District via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

High schools gradually adopted the traditions of college academic wear for commencement ceremonies. The ceremonial hood and ranked stripes were dispensed with, as everyone gets the same diploma. Otherwise, each school sets their own traditions for graduation wear, although most adhere to the basic college style, simplified.

Puyallup High School class of 2005. Quinn Dombrowski via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

The distinctions in rank in the college code have also been adapted somewhat for high schools. Different colored stoles, cords, and tassels indicate club affiliations, offices held, class rank, or honors conveyed. Some schools want students to select one stole and/or tassel indicating their highest honor (as colleges do), while others will allow students to wear as many of each as they like. And the graduate can wear as many honors cords as they earn. The differences in the students’ appearance can therefore be striking. However, since each accoutrement must be purchased, graduates with a limited budget may have more honors than they wear.

Saint Mary's High School Class of 2010. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Even more individuality can be achieved by decorating the top of one’s mortarboard cap. Students discovered long ago they can do this to enable family and friends to recognize them from above while they sit in a sea of similarly-dressed fellow graduates, while preserving the uniform look for pictures taken from the front. A few graduates did this decades ago, but it became quite popular in the 1990s. The decorations may includes words, pictures, or even attached objects to illustrate one’s name, discipline, or interests. Some take the opportunity for a joke. You can make your own, or even have your mortarboard decoration professionally produced

Tulane class of 2013. Tulane Public Relations via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

If you are graduating from any level of school this spring, congratulations and best wishes for the future!

See also: The Stories Behind Graduation Traditions

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25 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Recycle
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According to the EPA, Americans generate 254 million tons of waste each year. Here are a few things you may have been throwing out that, with a little effort, you can actually recycle.

1. DENTURES

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Grandpa's choppers may hold $25 worth of recyclable metals, including gold, silver, and palladium. The Japan Denture Recycling Association is known to collect false teeth, remove and recycle the metals, and discard the rest of the denture (which is illegal to reuse). The program has donated all of its earnings to UNICEF.

2. HOLIDAY LIGHTS

Bundle of holiday string lights

Got burnt out holiday lights? The folks at HolidayLEDs.com will gladly take your old lights, shred them, and sort the remaining PVC, glass, and copper. Those raw materials are taken to another recycling center to be resurrected. (In 2011, the State of Minnesota collected and recycled around 100 tons of dead lights.)

3. SEX TOYS

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The first step in recycling your toy is to send it to a specialty processing plant, where it's sterilized and sorted. There, all "mechanical devices" are salvaged, refurbished, and resold. Silicone and rubber toys, on the other hand, are "ground up, mixed with a binding agent, and remolded into new toys," according to the aptly titled website, Sex Toy Recycling. Metals, plastics, and other leftovers retire from the pleasure industry and are recycled into conventional products.

4. HOTEL SOAP

Hotel bathroom counter with cups, shampoo, and soap

Not all hotels throw out that half-used soap you left in the shower: Some send it to Clean the World. There, soap is soaked in a sanitizing solution, treated to a steam bath, and then tested for infections. Once deemed safe, the soap is distributed to less fortunate people across the globe. So stop stealing soap from hotels—you may be stealing from charity.

5. MATTRESSES

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You don't need to dump your old box spring at the landfill. Equipped with special saws, mattress recycling factories can separate the wood, metal, foam, and cloth. The metal springs are magnetically removed, the wood is chipped, and the cloth and foam are shredded and baled. In its future life, your saggy mattress can become a summer dress or even wallpaper.

6. COOKING OIL

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When you’re finished making French fries at home, it can be tempting to toss the spent frying oil down the drain. But you shouldn’t—approximately 47 percent of all sewer overflows are caused by fat and oil. There are a few curbside programs in the United States that accept used cooking oil, which may send the oil to a biodiesel plant that will transform it into fuel. To see if there’s a collection point near you, check this website.

7. DIRTY DIAPERS

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The average baby soils 6000 diapers before being potty trained—that's one ton of diapers rotting in a landfill per child. But not all poo-packages have to suffer this fate. The company Knowaste collects and recycles dirty diapers at hospitals, nursing facilities, and public restrooms. After sanitizing the diaper with a solution, they mechanically separate the "organic matter" from the diaper's plastic, which is compressed into pellets and recycled into roof shingles. Meanwhile, paper pulp in diapers grows up to become wallpaper and shoe soles.

8. CDS

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CDs are made of polycarbonate and won't decompose at a landfill. But if you send your discs to The CD Recycling Center, they'll shred them into a fine powder that will be later melted down into a plastic perfect for automotive and building materials—even pavement!

9. SHOES

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Send your beat-up sneaks to Nike Grind and you'll help build a running track. Nike's recycling facility rips apart worn shoes, separating the rubber, foam, and fabric. The rubber is melted down for running track surfaces, the foam is converted into tennis court cushioning, and the fabric is used to pad basketball court floorboards. So far, Nike has shredded more than 28 million pairs of shoes.

10. SHEEP POOP

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Why turn sheep poop into fertilizer or manure when you can make it into an air freshener? The folks at Creative Paper Wales do that, plus more—they can transform sheep poop into birthday cards, wedding invitations, bookmarks, and A4 paper! Sheep dung brims with processed cellulose fiber. The poo can be sterilized in a 420 degree pressure cooker, which separates the fiber from a smelly brew of liquid fertilizer, allowing the fiber pulp to be collected and blended with other recycled pulps, creating tree-free paper.

11. TROPHIES

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Is your room full of plastic bowling trophies from fifth grade? If the thrill of victory fades, you can recycle your old trophies at recycling centers like Lamb Awards. They'll break down your retired awards, melting them down or reusing them for new trophies.

12. HUMAN FAT (WARNING: ILLEGAL)

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If it weren't for legal complications, America's obsession with cosmetic surgery could solve its energy problem. In 2008, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon lost his job when police caught him fueling his car with a biofuel created from his patients' liposuctioned fat. (Convicting him wasn't hard, since he advertised the substance online as "lipodiesel.") That's not the first time fat has powered transportation: In 2007, conservationist Peter Bethune used 2.5 gallons of human fat to fuel his eco-boat, Earthrace.

13. ALUMINUM FOIL

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Foil is probably one of the most thrown away recyclable materials out there. (Americans throw away about 1.5 million tons of aluminum products every year, according to the EPA.) But foil is 100 percent aluminum, and as long as you thoroughly clean it of any food waste, you technically should be able to recycle it with your aluminum cans (but first check with your local recycling plant to ensure they’re equipped to process it; some aren’t).

14. CRAYONS

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Don't toss those stubby Crayolas! Instead, mail them to the National Crayon Recycle Program, which takes unloved, broken crayons to a better place: They're melted in a vat of wax, remade, and resold. So far, the program has saved more than 118,000 pounds of crayons.

15. DEAD PETS

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When Fluffy bites the dust in Germany, you can memorialize your beloved pet by recycling her. In Germany, it's illegal to bury pets in public places. This leaves some pet owners in a bind when their furry friends die. A rendering plant near the town of Neustadt an der Weinstraße accepts deceased pets; animal fat is recycled into glycerin, which is used in cosmetics such as lip balm.

16. SHINGLES

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The EPA estimates that 11 million tons of shingles are disposed each year [PDF]. Most of them are made out of asphalt, which is why more than two dozen states pulverize the old shingles and recycle them into pavement. For every ton of shingles recycled, we save one barrel of oil.

17. PRESCRIPTION DRUGS

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You can—and should—properly dispose of expired prescription drugs. But what about unneeded pills that are still good? Some states let you donate unused drugs back to pharmacies. Some charities also accept leftover HIV medicine from Americans who have switched prescriptions, stopped medicating, or passed away. These drugs are shipped overseas and distributed to HIV victims around the world.

18. FISHING LINE

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Fishing line is made from monofilament, a non-biodegradable plastic that you can't put in your everyday recycling bin. At Berkley Fishing, old fishing line is mixed with other recyclables (like milk cartons and plastic bottles) and transformed into fish-friendly habitats. So far, Berkley has saved and recycled more than 9 million miles of fishing line.

19. WINE CORKS

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Your recycling center probably doesn't accept wine corks, but companies like Terracycle and Yemm & Hart will. They turn cork into flat sheets of tile, which you can use for flooring, walls, and veneer. Another company, ReCORK, has extended the life of over 4 million unloved corks by giving them to SOLE, a Canadian sandal maker.

20. PANTYHOSE

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Most pantyhose are made of nylon, a recyclable thermoplastic that takes more than 40 years to decompose. Companies like No Nonsense save your old stockings by grinding them down and transforming them into park benches, playground equipment, carpets, and even toys.

21. TOOTHBRUSHES

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If you buy a plastic toothbrush from Preserve (which makes its toothbrushes from old Stonyfield Farms yogurt cups and other everyday items), it will take back your used toothbrush and give it a new life—this time as a piece of plastic lumber!

22. TENNIS BALLS

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The company reBounces doesn’t really recycle tennis balls, it resurrects them. If you’ve got at least 200 balls sitting around, the company will send you a prepaid shipping label to help get the box on the road and repressurize the balls.

23. YOGA MATS

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Most yoga mats are made from PVC, the same material in plumbing pipes, heavy-duty tarps, and rain boots. While many local yoga studios will accept well-loved mats and find them a new home, the company Sanuk has an appropriately squishy vision for each mat’s future: It will transform your old yoga mat into flip flops.

24. DEFUNCT CURRENCY

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All governments have a way of dealing with old, worn money. (In 2016, the Indian government shredded old bills and turned them into hardboard.) But what about currency that is no longer legal tender? Ends up you can donate your old French francs, Spanish pesetas, or Dutch guilders to Parkinsons UK, who will recycle the old coins and banknotes.

25. PET FUR

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All of the pet fur on your sweaters, your couches, and your carpet could help save the ocean from oil spills. Hair is excellent at sopping up oil from the environment (hairball booms were used to soak up oil from the 2010 BP Oil Spill), so non-profit organizations such as the San Francisco-based Matter of Trust will accept pet fur to make oil-absorbing mats of Fido's fuzz.

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Move Over, Golden Toilet: Now There’s a $100K Louis Vuitton Potty
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In 2016, the Guggenheim Museum installed a one-of-a-kind, fully functional toilet made of solid gold, created by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan just for the museum. Now, there’s another insanely luxurious art-toilet to look out for—and this one you can take home.

Made by artist Illma Gore for the luxury resale platform Tradesy, the Loo-Uis Vuitton Toilet is covered in $15,000 worth of monogram leather ripped from Louis Vuitton bags. Everything but the inside of the bowl—which is gold—is covered in that instantly recognizable brown designer leather. It's one way to show your brand loyalty, for sure.

The toilet is fully functional, meaning, yes, you can poop in it—although that would require you (at some point) to clean the leather undersides of the seat, which sounds … gross. But then again, the leather is brown, so do what you will.

A toilet art piece stands under a pink neon sign that reads ‘No Fake Shit.’
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Tradesy

Does sitting on it feel like using those squishy-soft toilet seats your grandma has? Please let us know, because we don’t have the $100,000 it would take to buy it for ourselves. Note that while the site sells used goods, the description makes sure to specify that this one is new.

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