Decorated graduation cap

Commencement Traditions

Before UNLV was UNLV, when it was still Nevada Southern, the first graduating class in 1964 was 29 students. The school has come a long way in the last six decades. From that first class in the early '60s through honors for Frank Sinatra, Guy Fieri, and Jimmy Kimmel, our graduates now total more than 128,000 and our commencement traditions continue.

Outstanding Graduates

One of UNLV’s enduring campus traditions is recognizing Outstanding Graduates at commencement. The president selects and highlights exceptional students who embody the academic, research, and community impact of the graduating class. Past honorees have included researcher, activists, educators, and survivors.

Academic Regalia

The academic caps, gowns, and hoods that make the procession so colorful are part of an 800-year tradition. Academic clothing was first worn in such medieval universities as Cambridge, Oxford, Paris, and Bologna. The gowns and hoods served a practical purpose in the days of unheated classrooms.

The European custom was carried to America with the establishment of our own colleges and universities. In 1895, an academic code of dress was adopted, and the standards of a black robe, hood, and cap were accepted by most of the colleges and universities in the United States.

The Oxford cap, the so-called mortarboard, has a long tassel fastened to the middle of the top that is worn like a pendant over the right front of the cap. Upon graduation, the tassel is moved from the right to the left. The hood, draped from the shoulder, denotes by its length and colors the field of study and the institution that conferred the degree.

Did you decorate your graduation cap?

Help associate professor Sheila Bock in her study on the diverse forms and meanings of this tradition.

Presidential Medallion

When the president appears at the podium in full academic regalia at commencement, they sport UNLV’s presidential medallion around their neck. At more than 10 ounces, it's a weighty symbol of the continuity of leadership at the university.

Presidential Medallion

University Mace

The university mace is carried on ceremonial occasions at the head of the academic procession by the Grand Marshal, whose symbolic duty is the protection of the university, its people, and its processes.

Image of the University Mace