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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.