History of the Hooding Ceremony
The hooding ceremony confers a special recognition upon graduates receiving masters or doctoral degrees. The hooding ceremony originated in European universities in the 11th or 12th century and was introduced to distinguish graduating students as they began their academic careers. Hooded robes, often required for warmth in unheated medieval libraries, were first used as a practical uniform for scholars as they studied and produced written works. However, over time the robes became largely symbolic. Universities then added colors to the robes to differentiate students by their academic majors, and the hoods later became detached ornaments, presented to graduates as part of the commencement ceremony [pictured at right is an example of a typical Princeton robe with a Science hood, author’s personal picture]. Hoods are still used today to represent a commitment to a scholarly life. While modern day undergraduates wear robes and caps, those with masters or doctorate degrees are presented with hoods to show their continued pursuit of knowledge. Such hoods are an expression of tradition and are used to communicate the wearer’s school, degree, and field of study for the rest of their lives.
Hooding Ceremony at Princeton University Today
For many years, there was no hooding ceremony at Princeton University although graduate students were able to attend commencement. However, today graduate students can attend both the Hooding Ceremony and a separate Commencement Ceremony. The Hooding Ceremony is unique in that graduates are individually recognized at that event which is currently held on Cannon Green behind Nassau Hall. Locations of the Hooding Ceremony since 1994 can be found here. The event is presided over by the University President and the Dean of the Graduate School and all advanced degree candidates who have completed all of their degree requirements (Ph.D. and Final Master’s) are welcome to attend. The President of the APGA (Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni) also participates in the event, welcoming the new Graduate School graduates into the APGA community. Dan Abramowicz, APGA President from 2004 through 2006, was honored to speak at both the 2005 and 2006 hooding events and his comments from the 2005 ceremony can be found here.
“The Hooding Ceremony is a special recognition for graduates receiving a final master’s degree or a Ph.D. All candidates are individually recognized at the Hooding Ceremony, whereas at Commencement students cannot be recognized individually. As with Commencement, all faculty and students wear academic regalia at Hooding. Ph.D. candidates may receive their hood from a faculty member (usually their adviser), who participates in the ceremony with them, or from the chief marshal. Students receiving a master’s degree will be hooded by the chief marshal. The Hooding Ceremony is for graduate students only and does not replace Commencement. The Commencement Ceremony, held the next day, includes graduate and undergraduate students and is the official conferring of degrees. The hooding of doctoral and master’s candidates prior to Commencement is an honored and special tradition at Princeton. For many participants it symbolizes the culmination of graduate studies and the degree recipient’s transition from student to colleague.”1
Although The Graduate School was formally established in 1900, graduate education at Princeton began much earlier, when James Madison graduated from the then “College of New Jersey” in 1771 and was allowed to stay for an additional year to study Hebrew with the school’s President, John Witherspoon. In the following years, more students were permitted to continue their education after graduation, but it was not until 1869 that a more formal system began to emerge with fellowships to encourage outstanding graduating seniors to stay on for additional studies. Andrew Fleming West was appointed the first Dean of The Graduate School after it was formally established and he served in that role from 1901 through 1928. There have been 15 deans (plus two acting deans) to date with Dean Sarah-Jane Leslie beginning her term of service in 2018.2
Throughout Princeton’s history, graduate students were separated from the undergraduate students in a number of ways, including physical separation with the graduate student dormitory, The Graduate College, located about a half mile from the heart of the University. The impressive architecture of The Graduate College includes a beautiful quad featuring a statue of its first Dean, Andrew Fleming West as well as the expansive Proctor Hall, where graduate students ate while wearing those warming gowns. The Andrew Fleming West statue3 within that quad faces the inspiring Cleveland Memorial Tower.
Building the Graduate College involved significant controversy, with disagreements between then University President Woodrow Wilson and Dean Andrew Fleming West over the use of endowment funds and the location of the building itself.4 During Dan Abramowicz’s tenure on the APGA Board of Governors (1999 – 2007), there was a strong desire to make closer connections between graduate students, graduate alumni and the broader University community. To that end, University President Shirley Tilghman, who served in that role from 2001 – 2013, launched a number of additional initiatives including holding the Hooding Ceremony in McCarter Theatre and providing room for more family and friends to participate in a simulcast of the ceremony presented in Richardson Hall. As a result, video of these ceremonies are available online. An image from one of the earliest ceremonies held in McCarter Theatre (June 2, 2003) is shown at left.5
The Program for the 2005 ceremony reinforces the practical origins of gowns and hoods for graduate students an a way to stay warm in the cold halls of medieval European Universities as well as Princeton’s role in establishing the system of academic attire and a vibrant description of the meaning of the colors on the hoods.
“The colorful gowns and hood worn as part of the traditional costumes at American academic ceremonies had less glamorous origins – a heavy woolen gown and hood being necessities in the cold halls of medieval European Universities. But at least by the time of the Renaissance, academic gowns and hoods began to distinguish scholars by rank and degree, and to bear colorful marks of institutional affiliations. In the New World, distinctive formal academic garb began with the founding of Harvard College in 1636.
American scholars had close ties to the great German universities in the late nineteenth century, and the brilliant display of academic regalia at the 500th anniversary of the University of Heidelberg in 1886 – as well as at Harvard’s 250th in the same year and Princeton’s own Sesquicentennial in 1896 – encouraged a growing interest in academic ceremony and costume. In 1893 Princeton took the lead in establishing a code for U.S. academic attire; Princeton Trustee Colonel John James McCook’s 1894 intercollegiate statutes continue in force today almost without alteration.
Hoods embody the most important symbolism, and distinguish the wearer by both rank and academic discipline. Master’s hoods are generally shorter by one foot than doctors’. Each is bordered by a velvet band in the color assigned to the discipline in which the degree is granted. The colors you see this evening are blue for philosophy (as in doctor of philosophy, or “Ph.D.”), peacock blue for public affairs, orange or yellow for engineering, white for arts and letters, brown for architecture, and light brown for finance. The lining of each hood bears the degree-granting university’s own colors – at Princeton, orange with a black chevron, colors adopted by the undergraduate Class of 1869 since William III of the House of Nassau, in whose honor the University’s first building was named, was also Prince of Orange.”6
The Programs and Agendas for the 2005 and 2006 events list the location, the members and order of The Academic Procession, the speakers, and the complete list of award recipients (accessible here: 2005 Program, 2005 Agenda, 2006 Program, 2006 Agenda). The Agendas in particular demonstrate the level of detail and preparation required to pull off such an impressive event. Videos of the 2001+ events can be found on the Princeton University media website.7
The ceremony has continued to evolve over time, and today graduates can ask their academic advisor to participate in the ceremony and place the hood on them. This practice was begun in 2015.8 In 2012, the first guest speaker was included in the program (George Will *68).9 Weather has played a role in a number of Princeton's Hooding Ceremonies over time, including the very first ceremony held in 1994, as detailed in a Conversation with Dean Redman where he discusses the origin of the Hooding Ceremony at Princeton. Since 2013, the University has tried to hold the Hooding Ceremony on Cannon Green. However, an unexpected thunderstorm that year forced the festivities indoors into nearby Whig Hall and graduates were simply handed their hoods as a formal ceremony wasn’t possible10. Similarly, in 2015 the threat of rain caused the organizers to reschedule the event into Richardson Auditorium8. Fortunately, the 2019 ceremony went off smoothly and was held under blue skies on Cannon Green, as planned (image below10).
Daniel A. Abramowicz, Ph.D. *84, January 21, 2020
1) Princeton University, “Hooding Frequently Asked Questions,” n.d. (accessed November 1, 2019).
2) Princeton University, “The Graduate School – History,” n.d. (accessed November 4, 2019).
3) Princeton Alumni Weekly, “Rally ‘Round The Cannon” , September 14, 2011.
4) Christa Cleeton, “Building the House of Knowledge,” September 4, 2013, Mudd Manuscript Library Blog,(accessed November 4, 2019).
5) Princeton Weekly Bulletin, Volume 92, Number 29, Page 6, June 16, 2003
6) Hooding Ceremony Program of The Graduate School, Princeton University, “Order of Exercises, About the Hooding Ceremony” May 30, 2005.
7) Princeton University, Media Central (accessed December 3, 2019)
8) Princeton University, “At Hooding, advanced-degree recipients, advisers celebrate a long, successful journey”, by Morgan Kelly, Office of Communications, June 2, 2015.
9) Princeton University, “Carell sends seniors off with laughs at Class Day; Hooding held for Grad School” by Morgan Kelly, Office of Communications, , June 4, 2012.
10) Princeton University, “Advanced-degree candidates receive their hoods and degrees” by Ushma Patel, Office of Communications, June 5, 2013
11) Princeton University (accessed December 4, 2019)