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Pres­ident of Hillsdale College Larry Arnn in his aca­demic regalia at a com­mencement cer­emony. 

In this year’s com­mencement aca­demic pro­cession, you might catch a dop­pel­gänger of Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry P. Arnn — but, it’ll be the two post­doc­toral grad­uates of the Van Andel Graduate School of States­manship, wearing their new aca­demic regalia styled after Arnn’s royal blue and black-velvet gown.

“There had been favorable remarks of Dr. Arnn’s gown, and we wanted to go with the college colors, because even though we’re a dif­ferent program, we are part of the college,” Bruce Wykes, director of oper­a­tions for the Van Andel Graduate School, said.

Designing the new gown spanned four years and involved the input from the offices of the Pres­ident and Provost, Van Andel Dean Ron Pest­tritro, Wykes, and JoAnna Wisely, director of Career Ser­vices.

The Hillsdale College faculty and staff chose care­fully, as the sym­bolism of the aca­demic regalia dates back to the 12th and 13th century, when the Western uni­ver­sities adopted cer­e­monial tra­di­tions, hon­oring the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman roots of learning while also rec­og­nizing each graduate’s inau­gu­ration into the scholarly com­munity.

The array of colors and embroidery worn by the faculty in the aca­demic pro­cession display the rich sym­bolism of aca­demic insti­tu­tions who proudly graduate their stu­dents. A common denom­i­nator among the reds, blues, and greens of the gowns are the three bars on the sides of a gown’s sleeve, which rep­resent a doc­toral degree. The color of the hood­ — for example, gold for the sci­ences, navy for phi­losophy, and copper for eco­nomics — indi­cates the aca­demic dis­ci­pline of the faculty member. – –  – The final touch of pomp is an “Oxford Cap,” a square black-velvet mor­tar­board with a gold-colored tassel, indi­cating a doc­torate degree, and a black tassel for any other degree.

Orga­nizing Hillsdale’s com­mencement starts many months in advance and involves an ad hoc com­mittee with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from admin­is­tration, staff, and faculty.

The aca­demic pro­cession falls to Wisely’s super­vision as five faculty members are rec­om­mended by faculty and the admin­is­tration to lead the pro­cession, in the posi­tions of the mace bearer, two color guards who carry the United States flag and a Hillsdale College flag, and finally the mar­shals, who lead the stu­dents and faculty to their seats, respec­tively. These are posi­tions that the faculty member holds for the duration of their Hillsdale pro­fes­sorship or in the case of the current mace bearer, Pro­fessor of Physics Paul Hosmer, an honor passed down from one pro­fessor to another.

“The mace is light but the respon­si­bility feels heavy,” Hosmer said. ‘I’m extremely honored to have the priv­ilege of rep­re­senting the school in this way.” Hosmer was rec­om­mended to the the position of mace bearer by Pro­fessor of Physics Jim Peters.

“It’s par­tic­u­larly special to me because when I was a Hillsdale college student, Jim Peters con­vinced me to be a physics major,” Hosmer said.

Hosmer remem­bered his own doc­toral com­mencement cer­emony at Michigan State Uni­versity in 2005 as a very per­sonal event shared with pro­fessors and col­leagues. In the Hillsdale College aca­demic pro­cession, his green and white-striped hood honors his graduate alma mater.

“I was a poor graduate student then so I rented the gown,” Hosmer said. “‘I always thought it would be cool to wear one of those Aris­totle floppy hats, so that was the one thing I did buy.”

Hosmer’s dis­tinction of car­rying the mace traces its origins from the 11th century in the tra­dition of Par­lia­mentary cer­e­monies, Linda Moore said, public ser­vices librarian at Mossey Library. Hillsdale began this tra­dition in 1955 when the soror­ities and fra­ter­nities gifted a mace to the college, although it was replaced when a friend of Arnn com­mem­o­rated his pres­i­dency with a new mace.

This history makes com­mencement espe­cially mean­ingful for Wisely, who will be par­tic­i­pating in her 29th com­mencement cer­emony this spring.

“The aca­demic pro­cession sets the stage as it’s the beginning of a grand cer­emony,” Wisely said. “It always makes me cry to see the faculty graduate their own stu­dents; it’s why we do what we do.”

Because of the high-profile position of this year’s com­mencement speaker, the com­mencement cer­emony will be held in the Biermann Ath­letics Center.

“‘Every com­mencement is special, but I think it’s espe­cially beau­tiful and elegant in Biermann,” Wisely said. “Everyone can see because of the large TV mon­itors, the climate is con­trol­lable, and hearing is easy because of the sound system.”

In the final weeks prior to May 12, Wiseley and the ad hoc com­mencement com­mittee, having put the issues of decorum to rest, are adjusting to a new variable in their prepa­ration: the Secret Service.

  • Donald Turner

    Dark blue is indeed the color for phi­losophy, but it’s phi­losophy in the broad sense, so anyone with a Doctor of Phi­losophy (Ph.D.) degree regardless of their spe­cific field will have a dark blue hood.