Convocation is a ‘rite of passage’ in which ritual and ceremony are used to acknowledge a student’s entry into a new degree of membership in the academic community of Mount Allison University.
At Convocation those who have successfully completed the study and examination set by the institution present themselves before the existing University hierarchy for admission to this new level of standing. The ritual, or the process of admission, requires that the candidate kneel before the Chancellor — the head of the University. The Chancellor will then say in Latin: “Admitto te ad gradum...” [I admit you to the degree of...] At this moment the student is ‘covered’ with an academic hood which, by its form and colour, designates the specific degree program completed and the university awarding the degree.
The students and all of the scholars taking part in the ceremony wear what is called academic costume for the event. The costume consists of a gown — usually made of black silk — and a cap, traditionally the so-called ‘mortarboard’, or alternatively the Canterbury cap. These articles of clothing are relics of the medieval roots of the modern university.
The gown preserves the standard form of dress worn by scholars from the 13th to the 16th centuries — the time when the first European universities were emerging as definable entities. Similarly the scholar’s cap is a legacy of the time when many different occupations were recognized by the hat or costume of their practitioner.
The hood is of special interest for it also derives from a form of clothing. The cut of the hood, if viewed carefully, will show that it is similar to the hood of a parka; it can be draped over the head or allowed to fall loosely over one’s back as is commonly done with the academic hood. This garment was also a standard article of clothing during medieval times. Universities in the British academic tradition, which dates to the mid 13th-century when Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and University College, Oxford, were founded, have used the hood as a means to distinguish the degrees of their graduates from those at other institutions. This is accomplished by lining the hood with coloured silk or trimming the edge of the hood with fur or coloured silk.
More advanced degrees typically produce richer and more complex costumes. Thus the doctoral gown is often coloured whereas bachelor gowns are austere black. The varieties of these designs give the academic gathering a colourful and dramatic flavour and add to the spectacle of the event.
The ritual is completed when the student is presented with the scroll indicating the awarding of the degree. In medieval times the scroll was a license to teach, but today the degree acts as a broader accreditation of academic achievement. Upon being ‘hooded’ and receiving the scroll, the student is admitted to the degree and becomes a graduate of the University.