Help Us Document the Decorated Graduation Cap Tradition

Decorating graduation caps, also known as mortarboards, has become an increasingly common tradition among graduating students. Dr. Sheila Bock from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is doing a study on the diverse forms and meanings of this tradition among people graduating from colleges or universities. The purpose of this study, titled “Decorated Mortarboards: Forms and Meanings,” is to find out how and why people choose to decorate their mortarboards.

This tradition is now the subject a of a book from Utah State University Press entitled Claiming Space: Performing the Personal through Decorated Mortarboards by Dr. Sheila Bock (2023). Sample chapters and an order form for the book can be found at this link.

There are three ways you can participate in this study:

1. Take a 10-15 Minute Survey:
If you have ever decorated your mortarboard for a graduation ceremony at a college or university and you are at least 18 years old, you are invited to participate in this survey.

2. Participate in an Interview:
If you have ever decorated your mortarboard for a graduation ceremony at a college or university and you are at least 18 years old, you are invited to participate in an interview about your experiences. The interview will be audio-recorded and will last no longer than an hour. If you are interested in being contacted for an interview, please use the following link to submit your name and contact information. This information will be kept confidential and will not be used for any other purposes.

3. Share Your Photos of this Tradition:
If you are at least 18 years old, you are invited to share photographs of your decorated mortarboards on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter, and mark it with the hashtag #gradcaptraditions. Only posts made public will be included in the study. Here areFileinstructions for posting publicly on social media. You may also email photographs of your decorated mortarboard to Dr. Sheila Bock directly at sheila.bock@unlv.edu

For the purposes of this study, the photos and contextualizing information you share will be analyzed for the types of themes, designs, and messages found on the mortarboards. These photos will also be housed in the publicly available digital collections of the Ohio State University Folklore Archives, where they may be subject to future research and publication in current or in any successor technologies. The risks of participating in this study are minimal, though please be aware that the images and information you post to social media will be accessible to the public. Participation in this study is voluntary, and you may withdraw at any time without prejudice to your relations with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. You are encouraged to ask questions about this study at any time. Should you have any questions about this research, you may contact Sheila Bock; Department of Interdisciplinary, Gender, and Ethnic Studies; University of Nevada, Las Vegas (702-895-0119, sheila.bock@unlv.edu).

PDF iconIRB Exemption Certificate [pdf]

#GradCapTraditions Photo Galleries

Photo galleries for individual commencement ceremonies are available to view on GooglePhotos using the links below.

December 17, 2016 at University of Nevada, Las Vegas
May 13, 2017 at University of Nevada, Las Vegas
December 17, 2017 at Ohio State University
December 19, 2017 at University of Nevada, Las Vegas
May 6, 2018, at Ohio State University
May 12, 2018, at University of Nevada, Las Vegas
December 18, 2018 at University of Nevada, Las Vegas
May 18, 2019 at University of Nevada, Las Vegas
December 17, 2019 at University of Nevada, Las Vegas
May 14 & 15, 2021 at University of Nevada, Las Vegas

In the coming months, interview data will be added to the digital archive, offering insight into the meanings and motivations driving this tradition.

#GradCapTraditions in the Press

"Message on a mortar board: graduation caps respond to Trump era" on Times Higher Education
"Graduation caps decorated to celebrate accomplishment but also to promote political messages" on ktnv.com
"As students express themselves on caps, commencement formality goes by the (mortar)boards" on azcentral.com
"Decorated graduation caps reflect joy, angst of students" on apnews.com
"What can we learn from the way graduates are decorating their caps?" on theconversation.com 
"From 'Thanks, Mom and Dad!' To 'Done With This B.S.'--What Graduation Caps Say About This Generation" on Kjzz.org
"The New Statement Piece: Graduation Caps" on byuradio.org (scroll down to locate article link)
"UNLV Grads find mortarboards ideal medium for personal touch" on Las Vegas Review Journal

Additional GradCap Photo Galleries and Resources

Uplifting Grad Caps Capture the Struggle and Pride of Being a Latino Graduate on The Huffington Post
This Is the Story Behind the Amazing Latinx Graduation Caps on Vivala
15 Inspiring Grad Caps that Honor the Sacrifices of Immigrant Parents on Remezcla
#LatinxGradCaps Celebrates Latinas Graduating From College on Latin Post
11 Latino-Themed Cap Designs For Your Graduation Inspo on We Are Mitu
15 Of The Best DIY Graduation Cap Ideas For Black Fraternity And Sorority Members on Watch the Yard
16 Graduation Caps From Black Students That Will Make You Proud, Laugh and SMH on .Mic
Native Student Denied Wearing of his Beaded Gradutation Cap on Native News Online
Graduation Cap Dispute on WLOS News 13 (video hosted by YouTube)
All Other Decorated Graduation Caps Get Put to Shame by This LED Mortarboard from Georgia Tech on Some Life
Student Selling Ad Space on Graduation Cap to Pay Loans on USA Today
These Graduation Caps Will Either Have You Clapping Your Hands in Pride, or Cracking Up in Laughter on wearemitu.com
25 Inspiring Grad Caps that Honor the Sacrifices of Immigrant Parents and The #ImmiGrad Hashtag is a Testament to the Sacrifices Immigrant Parents Make for Their Children and This USC Student Put Actual Pupusas on Her Grad Cap and We're Very Here for It on Remezcla
Why These Students are Using the Hashtag #ImmiGrad--and You Should Too on DefineAmerican.com
#Hamilgrads on Twitter
Disnerds (Disney nerds) on Facebook
Graduate Turns Cap into 'Hire Me' Billboard with QR Code on ABC News

Here is a list of readings that address this tradition explicitly.

Bock, Sheila. 2014. “Performing the Personal in a State of Transition: Decorated Mortarboards.” Journal of Folklore and Education 1(1):34-38. 
Bock, Sheila. 2017. “Decorated Mortarboards: An Introduction” [photo essay].
Bronner, Simon. 2012. Campus Traditions: Folklore from the Old-Time College to the Modern Mega-University. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
Harrison, A. A., Sommer, R., Rucker, M. H., & Moore, M. (1986). Standing Out from the Crowd: Personalization of Graduation Attire. Adolescence 21(84):863-74.