Site search
Search type
Wayne State University logo

History and traditions

Hymn to Wayne

To thee, our Alma Mater,
Homage we bring.
Brave hearts raise grateful voices
Thy praise to sing.
Young art thou, young and strong;
Renowned shalt thou live, and long;
Honors to thee will throng-
And Fame to thee cling.
We laud thee, Alma Mater,
Guardian of Right.
Thou art our guide, our mentor-
Thy name shines bright.
Keep Learning’s light aflame,
And hold Truth a sacred name,
Honor, thy steadfast aim.
All hail to thy might.

- Nicholas Stanley Oates ‘29 

The Wayne State University Mace

The Academic Mace of Wayne State University is a ceremonial scepter whose features relate to the ancient maces used by universities worldwide. Though a symbol of the highest ideals of humankind, many maces exhibit the main characteristics of their most ancient relative, the medieval battle-mace or war club.

The university’s 51-inch mace consists of layers of carved ebony held in place by a tubular shaft. By tradition it is carried by the sergeant-at-arms and occupies a prominent place before those who attend and conduct the commencement ceremony.

As the battle-mace lost its usefulness as a weapon, it began to appear as a ceremonial staff in processions of royalty, magistrates, and church or university officials. During the commencement ceremony, it serves as a symbolic weapon to protect and proclaim the ideals of harmony, truth, justice and learning.

The Academic Mace of Wayne State University is a gift of Sara and Melvin Maxwell Smith. A 1939 graduate of the university, Mr. Smith was for many years a generous contributor to the artistic enrichment of campus life.

The Academic Mace was designed and created in 1984 by the late Phillip Fike, professor of art at Wayne State until his death in 1997.

On caps, gowns and hoods

One of the most colorful features of an academic procession is the appearance of the graduates, faculty, guests and Board of Governors in full academic costume. These caps, gowns and hoods have long histories and their patterns and colors have special significance.

The gown recalls the time when all students in centers of higher learning were members of the clergy and therefore wore garments the church considered proper.

The custom of wearing a cap comes from the Roman practice of giving slaves the right to wear a cap when they were granted their freedom. The Oxford or “mortarboard” cap worn today is thought to be a combination of the close-fitting cap worn indoors by scholars of the Middle Ages and the soft biretta worn outdoors. The tuft on the early cap has been replaced by a colored tassel that signifies the college granting the degree.

In modern universities, the distinctive mark of a degree is the hood, which in its earliest form was simply an article of clothing. Since the churches and lecture halls of European universities were cold, drafty places, scholars wore hoods as head coverings, attached to a cape or worn separately.

American universities, unlike those of England and Europe, have adopted a standard code of academic costume. The design of the gown, the color of the tassel and the pattern, length and colors of the hood have special meaning.

Each graduate wears a gown appropriate to the degree to be granted. The bachelor’s gown is closed at the throat and has long, pointed sleeves. The master’s gown has oblong sleeves, open at the wrist, and tapers at the back in a square cut. The doctor’s gown is faced with velvet and has bell-shaped sleeves. Each sleeve carries three bars of velvet, or chevrons. Wayne State uses a specially designed green gown for its doctoral candidates.

The most colorful part of the costume is the hood. The color of the velvet trim indicates the department in which the degree was granted; the width corresponds to the level of the degree. At this ceremony, candidates for master’s and doctoral degrees wear hoods with lining in the university colors.

Colors of tassels and college standards:

Business Administration Drab
Education Light Blue
Engineering Orange
Fine, Performing and Communication Arts Brown
Graduate Studies Crimson
Law Purple
Liberal Arts and Sciences White
Library Science Yellow
Medicine Green
Nursing Apricot
Pharmacy and Health Sciences Olive
Social Work Citron
Honors College Royal Blue