I try to keep this blog of interest to a broad base of people, but I hope that you will forgive me if I nerd out just for a moment. The subject is academic regalia.
As you may know, I am on the faculty of Rutgers University, Newark campus. On graduation and other special occasions, the faculty get all suited up in their caps and gowns to lead the procession. This isn’t a big deal to most people, but for MFAs, it poses a special issue.
As a student, you feel like a cap is a cap and a gown is a gown. But in faculty land, everything means something. The Masters robe looks really different from the Doctoral robe. The upside is the the Masters robe has the little wings where you can store a paperback or your iPod. The downside is that wearing a Masters robe in a sea of Doctors makes you look like an intern.
Well, I just found out that since the MFA is a terminal Masters degree, we are get to wear the Doctoral robe, but we wear a slightly different hood. (If you care, here are the specs– Doctorate robe with black velvet, Masters hood, and 4-corner tam.)
Now that I know that I can wear a dignified get-up to commencement, I had to decide whether to keep on renting from the bookstore or should I just go and buy my own. The bookstore rental is about $70– and it’s sort of like renting a tux, kinda B-team. To buy my own is between $500 and $1200, depending on the level of fabulosity.
To buy my own there are some choices. I can go with the plain black– but then you have to choose the right fabric. Keep in mind, this garment will be used for life so you don’t want something that’s not going to breathe. Then, there are school colors.
I am sure you have been to graduation and seen a few faculty members wearing a red robe or a purple robe or something. Well, those are the colors of the school she graduated from with her final degree. (Here is a whole list; scroll over the name of your school to see the official robe.). The only draw back is that your school might have an ugly combo. (Oh Princeton!) My MFA institution is Arizona State. The robe is fine. (I should have gone to Michigan because I love that blue!) The whole get-up is $900.
I must say that I felt a little jealous of my colleagues who told me that they have special robes because their parents gave it to them as a special graduation gift when they completed their degrees. (One Yalie’s dad gave her a deluxe robe with fur trim! By my research, $1700!!)
I am the daughter of two PhDs who didn’t understand the MFA as an equivalent degree. I think they thought of it as a MA with salt and pepper and worried that I would never get a job in the first place, let alone be strutting around in custom regalia!
I’m thinking to go for the ASU regalia, though I wish I could wear the colors of my undergraduate institution. If the gown is supposed to show where you got your education, Spelman is where I learned everything I needed to know.
(Photo is of me wearing borrowed regalia when I addressed the freshmen at Georgia College and State University.)