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The Aquilian

The history of the white graduation tuxedoes

A photo of the class of 1989, provided by the yearbook from that year.

As the senior class approaches the end of May, a graduation ceremony like no other is to come. Gonzaga dates back to 1821, making this year the 200th since the school’s opening. Graduation will be a huge celebration this year, while still following guidelines due to the pandemic. This commencement is something to look forward to, but it’s also important to remember the history of Gonzaga’s most important event for seniors.

While obviously Gonzaga has always had a graduation, it hasn’t always looked the same. Recent graduates and their families are familiar with our amazing white dinner jackets worn at the ceremony. Ever since the early 1980s, this has been the norm for all Gonzaga graduates.

Clearly, the 1980s weren’t the beginning years of Gonzaga, so what exactly was the dress code of graduation before the newest tradition? Surprisingly, our school has changed the outfit required for graduation multiple times.

Mr. Mark Howell, who has taught at Gonzaga for 44 years and is an alum, provided some context on graduations’ history here. While no one currently on staff knows the full extent of the history, Mr. Howell explained why we changed our dress code to the present outfit.

There was a time we all wore a cap and gown. There was also a time when graduates wore a gown with no cap for fear someone would get hurt when everyone threw their cap in the air,” Mr. Howell noted about past graduations.I know I wore a cap and gown in 1973,” Howell added.

Before the early 1980s, Gonzaga had a similar dress code for graduation that most schools still have today. Seniors were required to wear a cap and gown during the ceremony. The reason for the initial change to just gowns had to do with most likely legal issues in case anyone got hurt when the newly-graduated seniors got to throw up their caps in the air.

As a student who has a father that attended Gonzaga, I dug up my dad’s old senior class photos and determined that the transition from gowns to white dinner jackets began around 1983. My father graduated in 1989, and the four yearbooks before him all had white dinner jackets. After doing some research in the library, I found a yearbook in 1980, which didn’t have students with the white tuxedo jackets.

The history of Gonzaga is rooted in deep traditions; graduation ceremonies being only just one of the copious amounts. This year is a special one for the whole community as the next century is on its way next year. Use the history of the graduation dress code as a symbol of adaptation and change, which is what makes our school so unique.

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