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.