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Commencement Facts

Commencement Ceremony

Commencement Facts and Firsts

  • The first commencement was in the summer of 1972 at the mini-campus warehouse.
  • The first commencement was combined with the inauguration ceremony of President William E. Engbretson.
  • The first major event scheduled at the permanent campus was the commencement of January 1974.
  • The first Board of Governors degree was awarded to Celia Ann Toll in 1974.
  • "Ease on Down the Road" was performed by the GSU Jazz Ensemble as the recessional in 1976.
  • The first University Without Walls degree was awarded to Clinton Forest Moewe in 1977.
  • The first student addresses at commencement were given by Mrs. Audrey Ann Young on June 8, 1985 and Ms. D. Diane Staehlin on June 9, 1985. Both speakers were from the College of Education.
  • Ms. Susan Bova has been providing sign language interpretation of the ceremonies since 1995.
  • GSU commencement ceremonies have taken place in a number of locations including the mini-campus (June 1972 and January 1974), Homewood Flossmoor-High School (June 1973), on campus in the gymnasium and outdoors, and most recently as the number of graduates has increased at the Tinley Park Convention Center.


Image Source: Digital Collections

Academic Costume

During the commencement ceremony, students and faculty wear academic costume indicating the wearer's degree and college or field of study.

Grand Marshall

The Cap
The black mortarboard type is the most common cap worn. Degree candidates wear cap tassels that are black and white, the university colors. Colors worn by the faculty vary according to their fields of study.

The Gown
Gowns are of three kinds. The bachelor's gown is relatively simple, with lines falling straight from a farily elaborate yoke. Its distinguishing characteristic is the long pointed sleeve. Braided silken cords are worn by students who have achieved special scholastic recognition: gold signifies high honors; white, honors. The master's gown has sleeves with a back and extending down below the knee in a crescent shape. The doctor's gown is an elaborate costume with velvet panels down the front and around the neck, with three velvet bars on the bell-shaped sleeves. 

Grand Marshall

The Hood
This part of the costume is worn by the faculty and master's and doctor's degree candidates. The hood bears the heaviest symbolic burden of all the components of the costume. The level of the degree is shown by the size of the hood, the width of the velvet trimming, and, in the case of doctors, by the shape. The  master's and doctor's hoods are three and one-half feet and four feet long, respectively. The velvet trimming, in the same order, is three and five inches.

Text Source: Commencement programs 

Images courtesy of University Archives. Both photos depict Grand Marshalls holding the Governors Mace.


Commencement Programs

Commencement programs are an important archival resource. Not only do they include the list of graduates and the program of events for the ceremonies including the names of speakers, most of them also include biographical information on the honorary degree recipients, a description of the academic costume worn by participants, and a description of the Governors Mace. Some programs also include titles of theses, biographies of community service award recipients, and names of retiring employees and their years of service.

A common archives request from GSU alumni is to see the program for the year they graduated. Now everyone can view the complete collection of Governors State University commencement programs online in OPUS.


Student's Commencement Poem

Michael J. Blackburn, Sr. presented a student commencement address at his graduation in 1986. A poem titled "The Place To" was adapted from his address and published in the Innovator student newspaper on May 27, 1993. The poem's title and last line refer to the former GSU slogan, "The Place to Finish What You Started".


It's Worth It!

Read a GSU student's point of view on why it's worth it for graduates to attend commencement. This eloquent editorial was published in the Innovator student newspaper's June 18, 1984 issue. The editorial was written by Thom Gibbons, Managing Editor.


Honorary Degrees

All recipients of the Doctor of Humane Letters are recognized with their portrait and a certificate describing their accomplishments displayed on the walls of the William D. McGee Hall of Honors, Room D1490.

Honorary degrees were first conferred at GSU's 5th commencement ceremony on July 20, 1975. See the attached list for the names of all honorary degree recipients 1975-2015.


Governors Mace

Governors MaceThe mace was used for the first time at commencement on June 2-3, 1979. Peter Levin of Chicago Heights donated the silver and ebony Mace. It was designed by Dr. Virginio Piucci, Vice President of Research and Planning. Since medieval  days, the staff has stood for the authority of higher learning. The Governors Mace will physically dominate all University graduations, conferrals of honorary degrees and presidential inaugurations.

Text source: Faze 1 June 8, 1979 p. 1.

Engraved on the four side-panels of the governors mace are (1) the seal of the state of Illinois; (2) a cardinal, the state bird; (3) the seal of the former Illinois Board of Governors Universities; and (4) an inscription which reads "The governors mace, a symbol of tradition and authority of Governors State University, dedicated to the search for excellence in the pursuit of truth, knowledge, and the love of learning. Presented by Peter Levin, friend of the university, June 2, 1979."

Text Source:
Commencement Program June 1983

Image courtesy of University Archives


Hood Colors by Field of Study

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