A bridge between the past and the future, Commencement is a celebration of accomplishments and a promise of great things to come.

Commencement Exercises are steeped in traditions that date back to medieval times. If you’ve ever been to a Commencement or other academic ceremony, you might have wondered about some of its traditions.  

The traditions and symbolic elements described on this site have endured for generations and are part of EVMS’ Commencement Exercises today. In addition, find our policy on doctoral hooding by family members

Today's academic regalia — the robes and the distinctive "hoods" presented to graduates — originated in medieval Europe where clothing color and material signified an individual's wealth and stature.

The hood was the normal medieval headwear, but gradually distinctive gowns and a colored lining were developed to signify various professions, trades and religious orders. In 14th-Century England, the statutes of certain colleges forbade “excess in apparel” and dictated the wearing of a long gown. In the days of Henry VIII of England, Oxford and Cambridge universities first began prescribing a definite academic dress and controlled even minor details. By the 17th Century, if not earlier, these colors were strictly controlled, so that anyone could identify, from the color of a graduate’s hood, the university and the degree. In 1895, representatives of America’s leading academic institutions met to adopt a code of academic dress. Besides regulating the cut, style and materials of the gowns, the code prescribed the colors which were to represent the different fields of learning.

Today, with few exceptions, the academic robes are black and the colors of the hood reflect the field of learning and academic institution. Gowns for the bachelor’s and master’s degrees are untrimmed. For the doctoral-level degree, the gown is faced with black velvet; three bars of velvet are used across the sleeves. The velvet is usually black; however, these facings and crossbars may be of the color appropriate to the degree.

Mortarboards and tams are also part of the academic regalia. Doctoral level candidates, faculty and administration wear six-sided velvet tams. Master level candidates, faculty and other participants wear mortarboards.

EVMS’ colors by academic program are as follows:


School of Health Professions

  • Dark Blue – Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Sciences, Doctor of Philosophy in Reproductive Clinical Science- Embryology and Andrology, Doctor of Philosophy in Medical and Health Professions Education (black gown with dark blue velvet front panels and side bars, dark blue hood and gold tassel)
  • Peacock – Master of Science in Art Therapy and Counseling (black gown with peacock hood and black tassel)
  • Light Blue – Doctor of Education in Medical and Health Professions Education (black gown with light blue velvet front panels and side bars, light blue hood and gold tassel); Master of Medical and Health Professions Education (black gown with light blue hood and black tassel)
  • Gold – Doctor of Health Sciences (black gown with black velvet front panels and side bars, gold hood and gold tassel); Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences (Medical, Research), Master of Science in Reproductive Clinical Science- Embryology and Andrology, Master of Science in Laboratory Animal Science, Master of Science in Contemporary Human Anatomy, Master of Health Sciences - Pathologists' Assistant, Master of Healthcare Delivery Science, Master of Healthcare Analytics, Master of Histotechnology (black gown with gold hood and black tassel)
  • Salmon – Master of Public Health (black gown with salmon hood and black tassel)
  • Hunter Green – Master of Physician Assistant and Master of Surgical Assisting (black gown with hunter green hood and black tassel)

School of Medicine

  • Hunter Green – Doctor of Medicine (black gown with hunter green panels and side bars, hunter green hood and gold tassel)

Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society (AOA)

Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society (AOA), a professional medical organization, recognizes and advocates for excellence in scholarship and the highest ideals in the profession of medicine. AOA values include honesty, honorable conduct, morality, virtue, unselfishness, ethical ideals, dedication to serving others and leadership. The top 25 percent of a medical school class is eligible for nomination to the society. The honor cord is green, for medicine, with a mixed strand of white and gold, which represent humanities and science respectively. 

Gold Humanism Honor Society 

Gold Humanism Honor Society honors medical students, residents, role-model physician teachers and other exemplars recognized for demonstrated excellence in clinical care, leadership, compassion and dedication to service. The top 15 percent of a medical school class is eligible for nomination to the society. Students in the honor society wear a gold honor cord.

Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health 

Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health encourages research and scholarship among graduate students of public health and recognizes achievement in the field. Delta Omega elects new student, faculty, alumni and honorary members each year based on high academic standards and outstanding performance in scholarship, teaching, research and community service. Students inducted wear an honor stole which is salmon-colored, the internationally recognized academic color for public health.

Pi Alpha Honor Society

Pi Alpha Honor Society is the national honor society organized for the promotion and recognition of both physician assistant students and graduates. Membership signifies the inductees’ significant academic achievement and honors them for leadership, research, community/professional service and other related activities. The society also encourages a high standard of character and conduct among students and graduates. Students inducted wear a teal cord. 

Military Cords

EVMS recognizes all military graduates, faculty and platform party members (whether active duty, reserve, guard, veteran or retired) at Commencement by bestowing a military honor cord to be worn with academic regalia. Participants who meet the criteria should indicate so on their registration. The military cord will be issued with academic regalia and may be worn under the hood and in addition to other honor society cords and/or stoles.

Fine Family Academy of Educators Stoles

In 2018, the Fine Family established The Fine Family Academy of Educators to recognize and elevate the status of healthcare educators who have made outstanding contributions to the EVMS community through sustained excellence in teaching, curriculum innovation, scholarship and educational leadership. A professional learning community in on-going pursuit of educational excellence and scholarship, The Fine Family Academy of Educators will be highly regarded in advancing educators – and education – both locally and nationally. Learn more about The Fine Family Academy of Educators.

Current EVMS faculty members in good standing with the Fine Family Academy of Educators are permitted to wear their approved academy stole with their academic regalia. The approved stole may be worn with faculty academic regalia, with stole worn over the hood. 

Academic Honor Medallions

At EVMS, academic honors are bestowed upon a faculty member who exemplifies excellence in his or her field, delivering on the promise of EVMS to improve community and global health through education, patient care and research. Each academic honor is supported through a donor-endowed fund with four levels determined by the endowed fund amount: distinguished chair, chair, distinguished professorship, and professorship. A symbol of excellence in academia, the academic honor enables EVMS to invest in the teachers, researchers and care providers at the core of our mission, and bring the best and brightest to Hampton Roads. Thanks to our generous donors, EVMS recognizes 34 outstanding faculty who currently hold endowed chairs and professorships, but most importantly have a love for medicine and humanity. Learn more about EVMS Chairs and Professorships.

EVMS faculty members who hold academic honors (Chair, Distinguished Chair, Professorship and Distinguished Professorship) are permitted to wear the approved academic honors medallions in addition to other approved cords and stoles, with medallions worn over the hood. 

For more information refer to the Academic Regalia & Honors Policy.

The Presidential Seal, Medallion and Chain of Office

The presidential medallion is three inches in diameter, crafted with antique silver and blue enamel, and reveals the presidential seal. The presidential medallion anchors the chain of office. Chains of office, also known as collars, were badges of office in the middle ages.

Today, they are metal necklaces, permanent parts of an institution’s president’s academic regalia and are worn at formal ceremonial events. The EVMS chain of office, commissioned in 2013, depicts the former presidents and their terms of office at EVMS.

The presidential seal is one of an academic institution’s most important symbols of office, the legal mark of the school’s governing body. The seal is used to authenticate official documents such as diplomas and other legal records.

The EVMS presidential seal, a symbol of Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) and the Eastern Virginia Medical Authority (EVMA), depicts triple interlocking strands representing the essential relationships needed for an excellent regional academic health network. Patient care, learning, and scholarly endeavor, organized in a coherent regional health care and educational system, reflect the talents and resources needed to provide quality services.

The intertwined loops also represent the several communities of Eastern Virginia which, working together, can achieve a degree of health care that none of them alone can attain. Finally, the symbol emphasizes the essential need for collaborative efforts among healthcare professionals and institutions – hospitals, colleges, universities, the medical school and the medical authority – if quality health care is to be fully achieved in Eastern Virginia. It is to this end, then, that the EVMS and the EVMA are dedicated.

The EVMS presidential seal is also depicted on the mace, the baton and the diplomas.

The Mace

Academic maces, ornamental staffs, are descended from war clubs carried in medieval times by the body guards of civil officers. The mace is one of the oldest traditions in academia dating back to the early 1400s when it transitioned from warfare to ceremonial use. An academic mace symbolizes the authority invested in the president by the school’s governing body. Because the mace is a symbol of the presidential authority as a school’s legal representative with the right to govern, it is carried in procession immediately before the president. When the mace is present, the authority of the institution is present.

At EVMS, the mace was commissioned in 2013. It is carried by the Rector of the Board of Visitors. The mace is 54 inches tall, lathed from cherry and depicts an antique silver presidential seal and the EVMS logo. The head is topped with an antique silver flame. 

The Baton

Small wooden staffs are carried in academic processions by marshals, the academic term for ushers. Also known by the old English term “beadles,” marshals march with their batons at the head of the degree candidates or faculty from each school, leading the way in the academic procession. Historically, beadles were minor church officials who served as ushers and kept order during services. Their batons were actually miniature war clubs.

Historically, the Chief Marshal is a member of the faculty and is also responsible for the school's relics, including the mace and the baton. It is 20 inches tall, lathed from cherry, depicts the presidential seal and is a replica of the mace.

The tradition of academic marshals comes from storied English universities.

In academic ceremonies, the Grand or Chief Marshal is the chief protocol officer who coordinates the ceremonial traditions of Commencement, including the processional and recessional. The Chief Marshal also is historically responsible for the school’s relics, including the mace and the baton, and is a member of the faculty.

Marshals also carry gonfalons, or banners suspended on crossbars, representing the different schools or groups in a processional. Gonfalons originated in 12th century Italy to represent various districts or quarters and are symbols of state or office, often displaying a coat of arms. They were carried in processions by chief magistrates or other elected officials.

EVMS marshals carry gonfalons to represent and announce the arrival of the platform party, members of the faculty, the School of Health Professions and the School of Medicine.

Find more details about this year's Commencement. For questions or additional information, please contact EVMS Special Events.