Skip to main content
Gradient overlay

Pomp &

Want to know why we wear caps and gowns at commencement? We’ve got you covered.


Velvet octagonal tams (those poofy hats), gold-and-blue decorated mortarboards and multicolored tassels dot West Virginia University commencement ceremonies. In each piece of regalia — even with modern touches — is steeped years of tradition. Add in unique songs, obscure customs and lively commencement speakers, and it's a recipe for a graduation ceremony fit for WVU.


Graduation Caps

Sequins. Glitter pens. Felt letters. That’s the view from above during any WVU commencement ceremony. Students have been decorating their mortarboards for years with notes of future aspirations, gold-and-blue embellishments or the ever-popular Flying WV.

“Life passes quickly enough as it is … there’s enough adversity as is. It will be over before you know it. You need to make the most of it.” – former President Bill Clinton, WVU commencement 2010
Graduate Attire
Mortarboards and Tam


The head covering of the modern academic costume was developed from the skullcap worn by the clergy in cold weather to protect their bare heads. In universities, this skullcap acquired a point on top, which gradually evolved into a tassel.

Hoods and Robes


The modern hood is colored according to the scholarly field of the individual and bears, on the inner liner, the official colors of the institution that conferred the graduate’s degree.


Long, flowing robes date back to the Middle Ages, when they were used for warmth in unheated buildings. The attire helped distinguish academics and became tradition. Baccalaureate gowns are simply pleated robes. Master’s degree gowns have rectangular-shaped sleeves, and doctoral degree gowns have billowy, bell-shaped sleeves, as well as velvet on the front and arms.

Pomp & Circumstance

Duuuuh-dun-dun-dun-duuuuh-dun. The familiar marching tune Pomp and Circumstance narrates nearly every graduation ceremony. The processional, composed by Sir Edward Elgar, became associated with graduations in 1905 — the year Elgar received an honorary doctorate from Yale University. His tune, which was used for the coronation of King Edward VII, was played as a recessional at the ceremony. Other universities followed suit — Princeton, University of Chicago, Columbia — until it became the song that all students hear at graduation.

 Musical score
WVU Seal


The WVU seal was adopted on June 15, 1869, and depicts Woodburn Circle, hills and a rising sun. The Greek motto written in the seal’s inner circle translates to: “Add to your faith virtue and to virtue knowledge,” from 2 Peter 1:5 in the King James Bible. The Latin words written on the seal’s outer circle translate to: “Seal of the West Virginia University. Established 7 February, 1867.”

Notable Commencement Speakers
Mr. Rogers

Won’t you be my neighbor? Mr. Rogers spoke to 1995 graduates in the same tone he had during their childhood – but with a powerful message.

Homer Hickam

Homer Hickam, Rocket Boys author, connected with students when he spoke to the class of 1999.

John Chambers

Cisco CEO John Chambers got up close and personal in the 2001 graduation ceremony as former WVU President David Hardesty recalls Chambers walking with a cordless microphone and engaging individual students.

Learn about this year’s graduates and see photos from the 2015 graduation ceremony at


The ornamental staff is brought to the platform by the Grand Marshal, who taps it three times and places it in a designated holder to signify the beginning of the ceremony. The mace was handcrafted by a WVU professor.

“Find what you love and figure out how to get paid for it.” – Today show host Hoda Kotb, WVU commencement 2009



students were graduated during the weekend of May 15-17.

Donning the gold-and-blue robes, the graduates reveled in the ceremony — a culmination of more than


hours at the University during their four-year career in classrooms, on the PRT, on study abroad trips and more.

All of those experiences are forever etched in the diploma. And WVU welcomed thousands more to our alumni family.




The Agricultural College of West Virginia opened.


The school’s name was changed to West Virginia University.


Harriet Lyon became the first woman to receive a degree from WVU.


Charles Frederick Tucker Brooke graduated as a member of the first group of Rhodes Scholars from around the world.


Jack Hodge became the first known African- American student to earn an undergraduate degree from the University – a BS in journalism.


Commencement was held at the stadium. Gold-and-blue balloons floated from the tunnels.