The Secret Colors of Graduation

Columnist Mike Adams reports that at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, where he is an embattled conservative professor, graduating students can get commencement cords in three colors: gold for good grades, purple for being a homosexual and lavender for being supportive of homosexuals. We had no idea that they gave out tassels for orientation and orientational support, but there seems to be some debate about the color lavender. Honors Graduation, which sells the cords, says lavender indicates “quiet determination,” not support for gays, and purple “often is symbolic of royalty, and “also often signifies divinity and therefore identification with “many religious schools, seminaries and theological clubs and societies.”

Adams says that UNC-Wilmington might want to give out white cords to identify students who got through college without claiming victim status to get ahead. But again the cord-seller has a different view. It says white indicates, “a new beginning and a safe journey…simplicity, calmness and ease.” This sounds to us as though white is for new grads who don’t understand the economy they are getting into.

Another cord seller, Tech Marking, says white is the color for those who studied English, history and literature, possibly another way of pointing to poor economic prospects. Gold is said to be the color indicating hardcore science, and “drab”– no illustration of what that color might be–“typically represents college courses that deal with industrial and business fields like commerce, accounting, commercial science, business management and so forth.” We get it.

Cords are available in orange (both vibrant and burnt) and burgundy (both old and vivid). Two other wine colors are available, claret and “wine dregs” (unillustrated), which ought to be the color for dropouts, but apparently isn’t, though an upsurge of interest in wine dregs cords would surely be surprising.

The most interesting color must be teal, which is said to reflect talent in the social sciences, respect for tradition, participation in a band or choir, and “students who have shown their ability in the academic world in a special way.” This covers a lot of ground, but the term “special way” makes us think about one recent grad, a University of North Carolina basketball star who maintained an A- grade average and even made the dean’s list, all without going to a single class. Now that’s truly special. Give him teal.


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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