The hat toss has become an iconic part of graduation ceremonies in universities and high schools around the world. Image Credit: Stock photo/Pixabay

Over the past month, thousands of university students in the UAE and beyond are celebrating the end of their academic journey, and the start of the rest of their lives.

Click start to play today’s Spell It, where students take the ‘leap’ with long-held traditions.

You might remember your own graduation and all the customs that came along with it, from the moving of the tassel, to the tossing of the graduation caps. Here are the origins of traditions that have become a well-known part of graduation ceremonies around the world:

1. Graduation gowns

Have you ever wondered why you had to don a black gown during the occasion? It goes back to the garments worn by medieval scholars in the 12th century, according to the American Council on Education’s guide to academic regalia. One notion is that the gowns didn’t just symbolise the scholars’ status, but also gave them a way to stay warm in drafty, cold buildings where they burned the midnight oil during their studies.

2. Pomp and circumstance

As you step up to collect your degree, you likely listened to the familiar strains of ‘Pomp and Circumstance’, which was composed in 1901 to honour the coronation of King Edward VII of Great Britain. The orchestral marches made their US debut in 1905 when Yale University bestowed an honorary degree on the song’s composer, Edward Elgar. From there, it spread to other schools in the US and around the world.

3. Tassel switching

Switching the tassel on the mortarboard from the right to the left side once graduation is complete, became a tradition by 1909 in the US, according to the US-based Intercollegiate Registry of Academic Costume. However, it was the subject of much debate. The 1935 Academic Costume Code established by the American Council on Education scoffed the tradition, stating that the tassel “may lie in any direction with equal meaning, since a passing breeze will determine its position at any time”.

4. Tossing of hats

The 1935 Code lost another battle when it insisted that graduates keep their caps on at all times during the “conferment of a degree”. However, decades earlier, the US Naval Academy’s graduating class of 1912 had already defied this requirement. Since their new graduates had earned the right to wear officer hats upon graduation, the Navy men spontaneously tossed their midshipman hats into the air. Since then, their hat toss has become an iconic part of graduation ceremonies in universities and high schools around the world.

What do you think of graduation traditions? Play today’s Spell It and tell us at