Kauhale Message

The Tradition of Commencement Regalia… and Invitation to Wear Tradition in Our at Commencement 2015…

The regalia of commencement are inclusive of a robe/gown, mortarboard (square cap) and tassel.  We wear them only at commencement. Ever wondered why? Letʻs take a brief look into this long-standing tradition and celebrate itʻs historical origins as we continue this tradition of wearing commencement regalia at the commencement ceremony:

The Gown/Robe: The origin of the modern academic gown/robe is from dates back to medieval universities of Europe.  As most of the scholars were priest and monks, and as most instruction were conducted in large stone monasteries that were both cold and drafty, the use of near floor-length and full-sleeve woolen robes served a practical purpose for keeping instructors warm, naturally evolving into a symbol of academic status.  Here is some humor in the color black of the gown: some believe it signifies the blank ink that stained clothes and skin of a scholar, therefore a mark of academic distinction.

Hoods: Although the modern academic hood is separate from the gown itself, it was at one time an extension of the gown.  As most medieval clerics were marked by a particular head shave called the tonsure, the hood was used to keep the head warm.  It has currently evolved into a separate article and whose colors identify the university/college and degree.  It is not used on the head anymore, rather left to fall at the back of the gown.

Mortarboard: Because its look is similar to a hawk used by bricklayers to hold mortar, the four-cornered board attached to a skullcap is called a mortarboard and is a requisite wear for commencement.  Skullcaps were originally worn by clerics to keep their “skull” warm in cold monasteries. Just as the robe originates from the traditions of medieval universities, it is said that the ancestor of the modern mortarboard is the biretta, a similar-looking cap worn by Roman Catholic clergy; others say, however, medieval scholars carried their books on their head and this mortarboard signifies this practice.  So if the latter of the two were so, the practice of throwing the mortarboard into the air upon conferring of degree would make sense! Mortarboards were first used to identify holders of master’s degree (carrying many books on their head, one would surmise?); currently it identifies all levels of the academic process from pre-school to terminal degrees.

Academic Tassel: Very little printed resource describing the academic tassel is available. Some note that it is a modernization of the tufts used on the biretta caps. However, having learned that the mortarboard itself may signify the books carried on the head, could then the tassel represent the tassels or ribbons still used today used as a page marker? The practice of moving the tassel from the right to the left, could this signify marking the start and then completion of a book, a metaphor for completed study?

Kīhei: The traditional torso-wraps of  Hawaiʻi are called kīhei. Itʻs origin, like the robes of medieval universities, was to keep warm from inclement weather.  It has since evolved into a wear signifying a formal occasion. It is used at commencement on the request of Chancellor Yamane to celebrate the origins of the academic process as delivered from this geography we call Hawaiʻi.  The kīhei of Hawaiʻi Community College is marked with the wings of the ʻIo, Hawaiian Hawk.

So do come to commencement, reach into your closets and shake out your regalia, iron your kīhei and letʻs celebrate together this momentous moment of our profession…the re-entrance of our learners back into their respective communities.

See you there,


Acting Director of Kauhale Academic Village


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