Commencement Traditions

The Presidential Chain of Office

The chain of office has become a treasured tradition in higher education. It represents the authority of the institution's president and is worn during official celebrations, such as inauguration, academic convocations, and commencements. Each chain of office is as unique as the institution it represents. The Empire State University chain of office is formed of links that support a medallion featuring the official university seal. Directly above the medallion is a plate inscribed with “President."


Academic regalia has a long and esteemed history, dating back to medieval Europe. A statute written in 1321 required all “Doctors, Licentiates and Bachelors” of the University of Coimbra, in Portugal, to wear gowns. It is unknown whether the origins of regalia are ecclesiastical or secular. Gowns also may have been worn by medieval scholars in part to keep warm in the unheated buildings where they met and studied.

The American Academy standardized academic apparel at Columbia University in May 1895, when a conference of representatives of the governing boards of various institutions established regulations for colleges and universities in the United States.

Academic regalia is governed by the Intercollegiate Code. The color, shape and material of regalia denotes the degree and position of its wearer. The color of the trim on a doctor’s gown, and the hood edging and cap tassel, are dictated by the wearer’s specific area of study.

For example, arts, letters and humanities call for white; commerce, accounting and business, olive brown; and education, light blue.

The Mace

Empire State College’s mace is a simple, classic design that features a wood staff and head, and a metal inset of the college seal. State of New York artisans designed the mace in the mid-1980s and its holder in 2001.

The mace has its roots in the Middle Ages as a weapon used to protect processions of eminent personages, such as kings and religious leaders. Over time, the mace came to symbolize authority and today is carried at the head of ceremonial academic processions, such as inaugurations.

While many are ornate, Empire State University’s mace is a simple, classic design that features a wood staff and head and a metal inset of the university seal.

New York artisans designed the mace in the mid1980s and its holder in 2001.