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A 2016 diploma written in Latin. Natalie McKee | Courtesy

Grad­u­ating seniors who didn’t take a Latin class may have trouble reading their diplomas.

To polish Hillsdale’s liberal-arts rep­u­tation, Hillsdale College began pre­senting its grad­uates with diplomas printed in Latin starting in 2015.

Director of Aca­demic Ser­vices Mark Maier said in the United States, diplomas serve a more dec­o­rative and cer­e­monial purpose rather than a prac­tical and career-ori­ented one. The pro­fes­sional world values college tran­scripts over diplomas, because tran­scripts are harder to fake.

“Tran­scripts are now the cur­rency we use to prove that we are who we say we are,” Maier said.“There have been times in the past when the college has dis­covered people who have claimed to have a degree but actually don’t. And usually they would pass that off with a phony diploma — not a tran­script.”

Like the diploma, Latin now serves mostly as a cer­e­monial lan­guage — and the school’s decision to give its grad­uates Latin-lan­guage diplomas is not unusual. Ivy League schools have done so since their begin­nings, and recently, some clas­sical schools like Thomas Aquinas Uni­versity in Cal­i­fornia and Texas Christian Uni­versity now are pre­senting their grad­uates with Latin diplomas.

Hillsdale embraced the Latin diploma in 2014 for grad­uates of the Van Andel Graduate School of States­manship. Maier said a year later, the college extended the practice to all diplomas.  

“When Dr. Arnn saw what we were doing with the graduate school, he said that he liked it and decided to do all of the diplomas like that,” he said.

To translate the diplomas into Latin, the aca­demic ser­vices office asked Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Clas­sical Studies Gavin Weaire to update Hillsdale’s 19th-century diplomas, which were written in Latin, for current use. The process took a year.

Recent grad­uates have found their diplomas serve little prac­tical use, except as Latinate wall orna­ments. Chris McCaffery ’16 — who now studies the­ology at the Catholic Uni­versity of America in Wash­ington, D.C. — said he did not have to submit his diploma at any point in his CUA appli­cation or any appli­cation for graduate schools and post-college jobs. Sim­i­larly, Meg Prom ’16, who works as a graphic designer at the Her­itage Foun­dation, said she also never had to present her diploma during her interview process.

At least one graduate, Devin Creed ’15, however, said he had to mail his diploma to South Korea to secure a teaching job there. The school required he send his original diploma in the same way that a passport office requires appli­cants to submit their birth cer­tificate. Although he got the job, Creed did not receive his diploma back.

“It was awful,” he said.

Prom said she thought the school’s decision to print her diploma in Latin was a nice touch of pro­fes­sion­alism.

“It looks nice on my wall, and I studied Latin, so I guess this is a prac­tical appli­cation for my learning,” she said.