Imagine, for a second, that you are observing the human species through the eyes of an alien unfamiliar with our culture. You see teenagers and adults toiling day after day with lectures, assignments, and tests to finally receive a diploma and cap and gown, signifying the completion of their studies. You see these students, in some instances, spending time and effort creatively decorating and personalizing the tops of their graduation caps. You’d probably expect that they’d cherish these symbolic items forever, but to your surprise, at the conclusion of the graduation ceremony, they all throw their graduation caps in the air!
This behavior seems normal to us as we've seen it repeatedly in movies and at older friends' and family members' graduations, but has it always been like this?
When Did the Cap Throwing Ceremony First Start?
Like most cultural norms, there is an origin story. The first cap throwing ceremony took place at the US Naval Academy during the graduation ceremony for the class of 1912. At the US Naval Academy, students spent two years as midshipmen before graduating and becoming Navy officers. With the new title came a new hat for their uniforms. During the ceremony, the soon-to-be Navy officers were handed their Navy officer hats.
Seeing as their midshipmen hats were now surplus to requirements, the graduating class began tossing their old hats in the air in celebration.1
This started the tradition at the US Naval Academy for every graduating class to symbolize the shedding of their midshipmen titles and preparing themselves for the role of Navy officer. Other institutions began to follow suit, viewing the act as a symbolic gesture for starting a new chapter in a graduate's life.
Is the Cap Throwing Ceremony Here to Stay?
It may seem like a given that this tradition will remain a part of the academic culture for centuries. Believe it or not, however, in recent years, some schools have banned the tradition. The graduation cap isn’t the softest of hats, and some injuries have occurred over the years. The University of East Anglia, for example, has asked graduates to pose as if throwing their caps and then added the caps back to the photos with photoshop. As you can imagine, this has been met with some resistance, and we feel confident that the tradition will continue for years to come.
If your graduation ceremony is approaching, we can understand you wanting to partake in this century-old tradition. We recommend celebrating responsibly and making sure to check your school's policies.
If you want to stand out from the crowd, personalize your outfit with a custom graduation stole. Be easily spottable to family and friends, with a commemorative piece that won’t be thrown to the wind. Tassel Depot can help make your graduation day an unforgettable experience. You’ve earned it!