History & Traditions

The annual commencement exercise is the high point of a university's academic year. The purpose, after all, of any college or university is to prepare its students to merit academic degrees. Commencement is the recognition of its success, and that of its students, in the undertaking. 

The first organized institutions of learning took form during the 12th and 13th centuries, generally under the jurisdiction of the church. Commencement ceremonies -- with their academic gowns, tassels, hoods, and maces -- are colorful traditions handed down from European universities of the Middle Ages. The first Commencement in the United States was held at Harvard University in 1642. Although more sedate than those of the 17th century, UCLA's Commencements display much of the tradition and pageantry that have survived the centuries. 

UCLA's Commencement ceremony has undergone many changes. The first Commencement in 1920 was held in Millspaugh Hall of what was then the Los Angeles State Normal School on Vermont avenue. The institution conferred its first bachelor's degree in education in 1923, and its first bachelor of arts degree in 1925. The Class of 1928 was graduated in ceremonies held in the Hollywood Bowl, the site of UCLA Commencements for several years, even following the move from the Vermont Avenue campus to Westwood in 1929. 

UCLA's first master's degree was conferred in 1934, and the first doctor of philosophy degree in 1938. In 1941, Commencement was moved to the Westwood campus, and held in the Open Air Theater, now the site of the Center for the Health Sciences. In 1952, the first of many UCLA Commencements was held outdoors on what is today known as Dickson Plaza. The class of 1965 graduated in Pauley Pavilion, where ceremonies were held for the following three years. In 1969, to accommodate the ever-increasing number of degree recipients, Commencement was moved to the Track and Field Facility, now Drake Stadium. In 1988, Commencement was decentralized, with the various schools and colleges holding their own Commencement exercises. Currently, UCLA's Commencement events include 16 degree-conferring ceremonies and receptions and 40 Commencement-related celebrations for the various departments and student groups. 

In 1937 there were 1,350 graduates from UCLA. Over the years, that number has blossomed; more than 9,107 degrees were awarded by UCLA in 1996. The number of attendees at Commencement also has grown dramatically over the years. In the early 1960's, approximately 6,000 - 8,000 family members and guests attended the Commencement exercises, with an additional 2,000 - 3,000 attending mid-year ceremonies. Recently, total attendance at UCLA's various Commencement ceremonies has been estimated at 90.000 guests annually. 

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Academic Attire 

The wearing of caps and gowns for Commencement ceremonies and convocations, which traces its origins to the universities of medieval Europe, has been an integral feature of American pageantry since the end of the 19th century. 

Beginning in the colonial times, the faculties of some American universities wore caps and gowns in keeping with their European heritage and custom. But a century was to pass before the attire became generally standardized. 

In 1885, there developed in this country a widespread student movement to wear caps and gowns at Commencement ceremonies as a sign of belonging to the academy. Ten years later, a group of American universities convened a conference at Columbia University to agree on a common code of academic dress. It followed in 1902 that the Regents of the University of the State of New York gave a charter to an organization named the Intercollegiate Bureau of Academic Costume to serve as a source of information and guidance in such matters. A Committee on Academic Costumes and Ceremonies, appointed by the American Council on Education in 1959, reviewed the costume code and made several changes. These standards continue to guide the nation's colleges and universities. 

At Commencements, all persons participating in the ceremony, either as a dais party member, faculty member or student, must wear academic attire. The gown is commonly black, but it may be designed with variations, such as velvet borders on the body and crossbars on the sleeve to show the level of the wearer's degree. Candidates of master's and doctoral degrees wear the hood, which resembles its ancestor the medieval cowl. At UCLA, candidates for bachelor's degrees do not wear hoods. The velvet border on the hood indicatesr the general field of the degree. Its silk lining, seen at the back, represents the colors of the school that has awarded the degree. The tassel color is indicative of the field of the degree. Candidates for bachelor's degrees wear the tassel on the right side. During the Commencement ceremony, they will shift their tassel to the left. Candidates for higher degrees do not shift their tassels; they wear them on the left side from the outset. 

The fourragre, made of braided cord and worn around the arm at the shoulder, indicates the wearer has been singled out for special decoration. It originated with the military, but has been adapted for academic use by many universities. At UCLA, the gold fourragere, signifying academic distinction, is awarded to the top fifteen percent of bachelor's candidates who graduate each quarter. It is worn on the left shoulder and is purely a Commencement-day honor. The blue and gold fourragre designates the Chancellor's Service Award and is given in recognition of community service. It is worn on the right shoulder and is also purely a Commencement day-honor. 

Candidates for doctoral degrees also have the option of purchasing the distinctive blue and gold robes of University of California doctoral graduates. 

Caps and gowns can be ordered at "Graduation Etc." on the A Level of Ackerman Union, Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 5:00pm. Orders should be placed at least two weeks prior to Commencement Weekend. For questions regarding cap and gown rental or sale, call (310) 825-2587 or https://shop.uclastore.com/c-320-graduation-etc.aspx

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Traditions and Symbols 

UCLA, as part of the University of California system, shares many of its symbols with the other UC campuses. However, UCLA has created its own unique icons and traditions that may be seen in the various Commencement ceremonies. 

The Name - The name of the UCLA campus has changed a few times in its history. Originally founded from the Los Angeles State Normal School, it was renamed the Southern Branch of the University of California in 1919. In 1927, the name was changed to the University of California at Los Angeles to distinguish it and set it apart from the Berkeley campus. In 1958, The Regents dropped the "at" and the campus became known as University of California, Los Angeles or UCLA. 

The Seal of the University of California - The University of California has used two different seals over its lifetime. The present seal, which was authorized to be designed in 1903, was put into use in 1910. Designed by Tiffany and Company, the seal incorporates symbolic icons and phrases that represent the portrait of the image of the University. The open book is symbolic of the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge; the letter "A" highlighted in the text of the book represents the beginning of wisdom. Above the book is a five-pointed star emanating rays of light, which also represents the discovery and sharing of knowledge. The English translation of the university motto, "Fiat Lux," or "Let There be Light" is displayed upon a scroll, representing the coming of light, knowledge and wisdom into the world. The date upon the seal is the founding date of the University. 

The current University of California seal is only used in connection with the transaction of University or Regental business. A modified version of this seal, with the elimination of the words, "The Seal of" is used unofficially by the various campuses of the University. The seal used by UCLA incorporates the acronym UCLA in the place of the date. 

The University Flag -- Designed in 1958 and displayed for the first time at the inaugural convocation of President Clark Kerr on September 26, 1958, the University flag was designed by Willard V. Rosenquist and Winfield S. Wellington. A gold streamer with an open book and a large "C" in gold are displayed upon a blue field with a gold border. The Latin University motto is displayed upon the book, above which is an arc of nine gold stars representing the nine campuses of the University. 

The University Colors -- All UC campuses share variations of blue and yellow as school colors. The colors were chosen in June 1873. Blue was chosen as it symbolizes the ocean and the local wild flowers. It was also Yale University's color; many of the original more prominent professors, the first University President, the incumbent President in 1872, and the fathers of many of the undergraduates were Yale alumni. Gold was chosen as California was the Golden State, the Berkeley campus overlooked the Golden Gate, and the golden poppy was California's state flower. 

The Commencement Logo -- In 2003 UCLA adopted a new logo for Commencement. The logo is in the traditional colors of the University. The 10 points on the star represent the 10 UC campuses. The graduating student is reaching up towards the light. The English translation of the university motto, "Fiat Lux," or "Let There be Light" is displayed and represents the coming of light, knowledge and wisdom into the world. The shape of the graduating student is also a symbol of the letter "C" for Commencement. 

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The Alma Mater 

UCLA and Berkeley shared an Alma Mater until 1925, when a UCLA student wrote a song called "Hail Blue and Gold." This song was replaced in 1960 by the current Alma Mater, "Hail to the Hills of Westwood," which was written by student Jeane Emerson. 

Hail to the Hills of Westwood 

Hail to the hills of Westwood,
To the mighty sea below;
Hail to our Alma Mater,
She will conquer every foe. 

For we're loyal to the Southland,
Her honor we'll uphold;
We'll gladly give our hearts to thee,
To the Blue and to the Gold. 

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UCLA History 

Please browse the links below for more information about UCLA. 

UCLA History Quiz - from UCLA Today 
UCLA Gateway: Welcome 

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