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About Commencement


Westminster Commencement Traditions

Every fall the incoming class is introduced to a beloved Westminster tradition, the Westminster gauntlet. At Opening Convocation new students are welcomed symbolically into the College by passing, for the first time, through the gauntlet. Three years and nine months later, at Commencement, faculty, administrators and board members form a similar gauntlet to usher the graduates into the world beyond Westminster.

The Weisel Senior Terrace, the stone patio attached to the south side of Old Main, serves as the site for Westminster's Commencement ceremony each spring. Tradition says that if Westminster students step foot on the terrace prior to Commencement, they will not graduate. For generations, students have been abiding by that theory, and only employees, alumni, visitors or graduating seniors are ever seen walking on the terrace's stones.

Each Commencement ceremony closes with the singing of the Alma Mater, led by a music student selected from the graduating class.

The caps, gowns, and hoods worn in the Commencement exercises are patterned after the attire of monks and students in the Middle Ages. The bachelor’s degree gown is distinguished by the long pleated front, intricate shirring across the shoulders and back, and long pointed sleeves. The master’s degree gown is similar but is different in the oblong, hanging sleeves. Those who hold the doctor’s degree wear a gown featuring broad velvet panels down the front and three velvet bars on each sleeve. This velvet trimming may be either black or the distinctive color of the field of learning represented by the degree.

Black is the traditional color of the gowns. However, many faculty who hold doctorates wear gowns distinguished by the primary color or colors of the institutions which awarded the degrees.

The caps worn are of many different types. There is the traditional “mortarboard,” the soft “beret” type, and the “Florentine” style. The tassels of the caps are worn on the left side by those who already possess bachelor’s degrees. Those who are to receive bachelor’s degrees in today’s exercises wear theirs on the right side until the presentations are made, at which time they will shift the tassels to the left.

The hood is probably the most distinct feature of the costumes being worn. The size of the hood varies according to the level of the degree held. The bachelor’s is the smallest, the master’s is somewhat larger, and the doctor’s the largest of the three. The inner silk lining of the hood symbolizes the colors of the institution which conferred the degree. The outer velvet border of the hood signifies the field of learning to which the degree pertains, such as the following:

Arts, Letters, Humanities – White
Business, Accounting – Olive Green
Economics – Copper
Education – Light Blue
Fine Arts – Brown
Law – Purple
Library Science – Lemon Yellow

Medicine – Dark Green
Music – Pink
Philosophy – Dark Blue
Physical Education – Sage Green
Science – Golden Yellow
Speech – Silver Gray
Theology – Scarlet Red

— Walter E. Scheid
Professor of Speech Emeritus

The drawing on the inside of the diploma covers that graduates receive was created by Donna White, daughter-in-law of trustee emeritus Richard L. White ’61 and wife of Todd White ’88.

“Old Main Memorial in Pen and Ink” portrays the College’s signature building, Old Main Memorial, built in 1929. Mrs. White created the work for the College’s Sesquincentennial celebration, honoring Westminster’s 150th birthday.

The Westminster College medallion is a symbol of the Office of the President and is worn by the president with academic regalia at formal ceremonies and convocations. The medallion was specially crafted to represent simultaneously the College’s faith heritage and continuing quest for educational excellence. About four inches in diameter, it is fabricated in bronze with gold plating, and is worn suspended from a velvet ribbon, two inches wide, bearing the College’s colors of blue and white.

The medallion’s central portion is adorned with the image of an Olive Tree branch, selected to symbolize both peace and humanity’s connection to God the Creator. The outer ring encircling the olive branch contains the inscription Collegium Westmonasterium, the Latin form of Westminster College, plus two stars located in positions similar to those on the College Seal. The date of the College’s founding, 1852, is placed to the left of the branch and is written in Roman numerals. Directly above it, in Latin, is reference to its location in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The medallion is completed by inclusion of the phrase Quaerite Et Invenietis, translated “Seek and you will find,” immediately beneath the olive branch. This phrase was taken from the Gospel According to St. Matthew 7:7, and is written as found in the “official” Latin translation of the New Testament (commonly called “The Vulgate”), prepared by St. Jerome in the late fourth century and revised in the sixteenth century. The phrase was selected to remind all of the Good News of the Gospel and that understanding and knowledge is advanced through diligent inquiry, and complements the Old Testament passage “Bind up the testimony and seal the law” (Isaiah 8:16) found on the College Seal.

The medallion was designed in 1995 through the collaborative efforts of three Westminster faculty members, A. Dwight Castro, professor of classics emeritus, Peggy L. Cox, professor of art, and John Deegan Jr., former Dean of the College. The medallion was created through the generous contributions of the friends of Mr. Raymond G. Preston ’59 in his memory, and is permanently on display in the President’s Office in Old Main.

The Westminster College mace was handcrafted in 1995 by Mr. William C. Miller of New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. Mr. Miller, a master craftsman, made the thirty-four-inch mace out of black walnut wood, taken from a tree cut near the College, and brass. Considerable lathe work and hand carving was required to obtain the elaborate shape and original designs in the wood, as well as the turning of brass for decorative ornamentation. The headpiece of the mace is adorned with four medals, two bearing the image of the Westminster College medallion and two bearing the image of the Westminster College seal. The mace was given to Westminster College by James G. James Jr. ’78 and Mary Cooley James ’84, and is permanently on display in the Office of Academic Affairs in Old Main.