This May, for the first time in SMU’s near-century of existence, the University’s graduating class will wear red and blue during Commencement ceremonies. The new custom regalia will make its debut during the 94th all-University ceremony at 9:30 a.m. May 16.
The new robes are the result of a 3-year team effort led by the Office of the Registrar. That group included Political Science Professor Brad Carter, SMU’s chief marshal from May 1990 to December 2008. Professor of Economics Tom Fomby succeeds Carter as chief marshal beginning with the May 2009 ceremony.
With the red and blue robes, the University has become part of a national trend toward custom regalia, “but to my mind, it’s more than that,” Carter says. “SMU has always had some of the best ceremonies and Commencement weekends of any school. And this seemed to be a sort of culminating act. It would highlight the particular brand of SMU, it would be beautiful, and it would be very localized and non-generic, yet elegant.”
The ad hoc selection team included Carter, Assistant Registrar for Academic Ceremonies Gretchen Voight, Director of Transfer and Articulation Services Nancy Skochdopole, University Registrar John Hall, Associate Provost Tom Tunks, Provost Paul Ludden, Vice President for Development and External Affairs Brad Cheves and President R. Gerald Turner.
“We had prepared our speech about why custom regalia was a good idea,” Hall says, recalling the first meeting with President Turner. “Then Gerald came into the room, went to one of the samples, and said, ‘Well, I don’t know if that’s the right color red.’ He had accepted the premise already, and now we just had to work out the details. I spent three nights writing that speech and never gave it.”
Choosing the perfect shade of blue was a bigger challenge, Voight says. “The first fabric sample we got was electric blue,” the color of a water-bottle cap, she says. Manufacturer Herff Jones helped to refine colors, fabrics, piping and other details, in close consultation with the regalia committee.
The team also worked with Herff Jones to develop unique regalia for each degree level. The bachelor’s robe includes a red “Stole of Gratitude,” to be kept by the new graduate after the robe is returned, and traditionally presented to an individual who had a profound influence on his or her education. The master’s robe features tabbed sleeves and a single SMU logo on the left lapel.
New doctoral regalia includes gold piping around velvet chevrons and SMU logos embroidered in gold. It has been approved by Deans John Attanasio and William Lawrence for use by Dedman School of Law and Perkins School of Theology graduates, as well as Ph.D. and other doctoral recipients. SMU trustees will wear the doctoral robes without hoods for the 2009 ceremonies; their new regalia is still in the design stage.
The University has a 7-year agreement with Herff Jones to provide the custom regalia. Seven years is the average life span of a rental robe, but SMU’s attire may remain in good condition for much longer, Hall says. “The typical black rental robe may be used as many as 12 times a year, but ours will only be used twice a year,” he adds.
The results will do SMU graduates proud for years to come. “I’m a Commencement traditionalist, and I couldn’t imagine not having black robes – but these are just beautiful,” Skochdopole says.
Top: SMU’s new custom regalia for doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s degree recipients (left to right). Lower left: A front view of the new doctoral robe and tam. Photos courtesy of Herff Jones.