Commencement ceremonies

The commencement ceremonies

Historical Background

The conferment of doctors' degrees is a medieval heritage. It seems to stem from a need to emphasise the transition from one stage of the educational career to the next. Thus, a holder of a master's degree was awarded his degree after completion of the studies at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, a type of foundation education, and a holder of a doctor's degree was similarly conferred the doctor's degree after completion of studies and after having defended a doctor's thesis at one of the so-called "higher faculties" (Theology, Law, and Medicine).

The first documented conferment of degrees in Sweden took place on January 22, 1600, in Uppsala. At that time, seven students were awarded their masters' degrees. In the year of 1617, the conferment of a doctor's degree in theology was arranged in all its splendour. That occasion was a part of the ceremonies surrounding the coronation of Gustavus Adolphus II.

The number of commencement ceremonies increased during the 19th century and gained great importance within academic circles. Originally, the commencement ceremonies took place within each faculty, but during the last fifty years it has become increasingly common that the whole university celebrates together. Thus, commencement has become the whole university's concern.


The Insignia of the Conferment

The Laurel Wreath

During a conferment of a doctor of philosophy degree, a laurel wreath is always handed out, and for the other faculties a hat. The laurel wreath is only used during the ceremony, however, and afterwards the Promoti (those who have been awarded doctors' degrees) wear hats as a sign of their dignity.

In ancient Greek mythology, the laurel wreath was connected with the god Apollo, but it was also used as a symbol for victory in triumphal processions in the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages and the renaissance, the laurel wreath symbolised poetry, but it was also associated with scholarship.

The Hat

The pleated hat, with different buckles depending on the faculty, is regarded to symbolise freedom. In ancient Rome, liberated slaves were given the right to wear a hat. Within an academic context, the hat symbolises freedom of research, but from a historical viewpoint it also expresses power. Nowadays, a doctor's hat is only worn with formal dress.

The Diploma

The design of the diplomas varies according to the faculty. The language of the diploma can be either Swedish or Latin. If the latter is used, the diplomas are printed in various versions since Latin requires different wording according to the gender of the doctor. The names of the Promovendi are typically written by hand.

It used to be very important to be able to verify a doctor's degree, especially during trips abroad. Then the diploma was the only degree certificate. Today, the diploma is considered a beautiful memory of the commencement ceremonies.

The Ring

The ring is normally only given to the honorary doctors. The other doctors may acquire one if they wish. For them, during the ceremony, the handing over of the ring takes place symbolically.

The ring symbolises marriage, which within this context represents how the promovendi are wed to science.