Graduation ceremonies have actually long been official celebrations, including monochromatic fields of dress and mortarboards as trainees begin their post-college lives in ceremonial fashion.
Observers of these ritual events now find decorated grad caps proclaiming “LOL BYE,” “Game of Loans,” and “However, she continued.” The stately scholastic decorum is punctuated with DIY adornment of pop-culture characters and social media memes. Some graduate caps mean barriers conquer or future strategies. Others offer memorials and even three-dimensional pastoral landscapes.
When Sheila Bock observed the expansion of decorated caps at a 2011 beginning, her “folklore radar went off.”
“This was a custom that was really from the ground up rather than the top down and occurring in extremely official settings. Making use of social media has made this more widespread,” says Bock, a teacher of interdisciplinary, gender and ethnic research studies at UNLV, whose publications have consisted of “Ku Klux Kasserole and Strange Fruit Pies: A Shouting Match at the Border in The online world” and “‘What Occurs Here, Stays Here’: Offering the Untellable in a Tourism Marketing Campaign.”
She began photographing the caps and gathering the stories behind them. Last year, she released a main study and approached the Center for Folklore Research Studies at Ohio State University (where she received her master’s and postgraduate degrees) to help create a digital archive of the materials. Officially titled “ Decorated Mortarboards: Forms and Meanings,” the project invites involvement through studies, interviews, and social media posts with #gradcaptraditions.
“The products are so fascinating and so abundant that I didn’t want to simply gather these things and store them in my own files,” Bock states. These vernacular kinds of innovative expression communicate both amusing and profound messages, offering a casual barometer of the era.
Grad cap designs might talk to the experiences of being an immigrant in the United States or to the obstacles of being a first-generation university student. One graduate from another region included tickets from the commuter train required to school. Another decorated her cap with pieces of her grandma’s work gown. And another talked to monetary frustration with “Was this BS worth all the BS?”
In a time of stress and anxieties over accomplishing the American Dream, “it’s a reasonable question to ask,” Bock notes.
The majority of the caps recorded up until now have come from current UNLV graduates, though involvement in the task is open to anybody no matter where or when they graduated. She’s also recorded why some graduates picked not to decorate their caps– frequently since they didn’t wish to divert from the gravity or rule of the event, Bock states.
But those who did embellish embraced the opportunity to stick out in the crowd and represent their stories. One graduate with a Beatles-themed cap explained to Bock that she and her dad were fans together; he had actually passed away so she wanted to commemorate him. Another nontraditional trainee explained her journey as a form of hope and inspiration: “1 ex, 2 kids, 9 jobs, 1 husband, 1 addiction, 13 years, 127 credits, 66k loans = 1 college grad!!!”
Jaqueline Eddy, a UNLV grad talked to by Bock decorated her cap with a photo of her child and the expression, “I did it for us.”
Claudia Chiang-Lopez’s cap read, “Viaja aprende sirve.” The first-generation immigrant from Mexico wanted to consist of Spanish text to celebrate her heritage, specifically what her moms and dads provided for her by concerning the States. The English translation of the expression, “discover, travel, serve,” is a tagline from a trainee group she joined that took her to other cities to do service work and study social justice issues.
Personal stories are repeating styles in these caps, Bock states, including that a scrapbooking approach often crafts a story, whether it’s basic and enjoyable or layered with depth.
“These caps are going to change gradually,” she states, including that she ‘d like the task to be continuous. “Folklorists record and evaluate traditions and handle projects that, to others, may seem minor.”
The research, nevertheless, validates that there’s nothing particularly unimportant about these material sites of folk expression. Floral, photographic, collage or sculptural, the works pop from the blank canvases of the caps, allowing grads to stand out within the procedure of the occasion, reveal their stress and anxieties, and commemorate their heritages, their journeys, their families and futures.