History and Tradition

Academic Procession

The processional begins with the All-College gonfalonier, who leads in the faculty, followed by the Schools of Arts and Sciences, Education and Professional Studies gonfaloniers, who lead in the students.

The processional concludes when the mace bearer brings in the platform party, which consists of members of the university's administration and faculty leadership, the College Council, visiting dignitaries and honorees.

Alma Mater

By lofty elm trees shaded round,
Tioughnioga near,
Our grand old Cortland College stands,
To all of us how dear!
We'll sing to thee, dear Alma Mater,
Of love that shall never die,
We'll strive for thy glory eternal,
Keep thy stainless honor high.
Inspiring each son and each daughter
The noblest aims to try,
All thy fame and thy spirit,
Thy might are ours
As the swift years hurry by.


The four bright banners carried in the academic procession are called gonfalons. The red, white, black and gray gonfalon represents the university; in blue, gray and burgundy it represents the School of Arts and Sciences; in blue, purple and black it represents the School of Education; and in peach and green it represents the School of Professional Studies.

The gonfalons were designed by Libby Kowalski, professor of art and art history, and Kathy Maher, a 1984 SUNY Cortland graduate. The standards were made by Bard Prentiss, associate professor emeritus of art and art history, and J. Eric Kroot. Materials were provided by the Gilbert and Mary Cahill Foundation and the late Rozanne M. Brooks, distinguished teaching professor emerita of sociology/anthropology.

Honors Medallion

The graduates wearing silver medallions with red ribbons have completed the SUNY Cortland Honors Program. To complete the Honors Program, a student must take 24 credit hours of honors courses, engage in 40 hours of community service, maintain a cumulative grade point average of 3.2 and complete an honors thesis during their senior year.

Honors Tassels

Students who qualify for an honors distinction based on their grade point averages recorded as of Feb. 1 of the graduating year, will receive an honors tassel, which will be distributed by the Registrar's Office at Commencement rehearsal and on Commencement day.

Honors distinctions
Distinction GPA Tassel
Cum Laude 3.2 to 3.499 White Tassel
Magna Cum Laude 3.5 to 3.749 Red and White Tassel
Summa Cum Laude  3.75 and above Red Tassel

Students not qualifying for honors distinction will wear a black tassel. However, if the student's grade point average at the end of the academic year meets the honors criteria as noted above, the honors distinction will be recorded and displayed on the official transcript and diploma.

Various departments also have individual honors programs. The individual departments may distribute cords or tassels to wear during the Commencement ceremony as well. Students may inquire with department chairs or advisors to verify if there is a specific honors distinction for a major/program.

International Student Flags

Graduating international students present their national flag to the president during the Commencement ceremony. 

  • 2004 – China, Japan and Nepal
  • 2006 – Colombia
  • 2007– Mali, Peru and South Korea
  • 2008 – France and Turkey
  • 2009 – Canada, Gambia and India
  • 2010 – Anguilla was received
  • 2011 – Azerbaijan
  • 2012 – Ghana, Grenada, Jamaica, Sweden and the United Kingdom
  • 2019 – Malaysia and Germany
  • 2022 – Albania

The flags are prominently displayed in the lobby of Corey Union throughout the year and during Commencement ceremonies.

Kente Stole

The Kente stole is a rich, multicolored, hand-woven style of cloth that originated in Ghana, West Africa, and is revered throughout the Africana World. It is traditionally worn during important national ceremonies.

The colors, patterns and ideogrammatic images of the Kente stole impart information about the wearer and highlight the importance of an event or a ceremony.

Similar to the academic hood, the Kente stole is relatively new to commencement ceremonies in the United States and signifies and symbolizes higher education's connection to the rich cultures, intellectual traditions and academic achievements of the Africana World.


The mace is a ceremonial staff used as a symbol of authority. The mace bearer precedes the platform party and places the mace on a special stand where it remains while the official proceedings of Commencement are underway. SUNY Cortland's mace, the "Torch of Learning," is made of silver and rosewood and was created by local silversmith John Marshall.

DiGiusto Medallion

The silver medallion worn by the president at Commencement was designed by the late Gerald DiGiusto, professor of art and art history, and crafted by Linda Stewart in a project supported by the late Rozanne M. Brooks, distinguished teaching professor emerita of sociology/anthropology.  It depicts the seven valleys of Cortland County.

President Bitterbaum with honorary degree candidates wearing the DiGiusto medallion


Commencement lends itself to the pageantry of an academic procession rooted in medieval times. The gowns and hoods worn by faculty members, candidates for graduation and platform dignitaries distinguish the institution from which the wearer was or will be graduated, the level of the degree earned and the field of learning.

In 1985, American colleges established a standard code of academic dress, specifying three types of gowns. The gown for the bachelor's degree has pointed sleeves, the gown for the master's degree has an oblong sleeve with the front part cut in an arc, and the gown for the doctoral degree has bell-shaped sleeves. The doctoral gown is also trimmed in velvet.

The hood's inner lining, which folds out at the back and center, indicates the colors of the institution granting the degree, while the border, which comes around to the front of the neck, represents the field of learning. The black mortarboard cap is standard. Its only distinguishing feature is a gold tassel worn by holders of the doctoral degree.

Special Person Designation

When applying for a degree, all students will be asked to designate a "special person" who has been instrumental in helping them to achieve academic success.

The name of the special person will be read immediately following the student's name, which is announced while the student walks across the stage at the Commencement ceremony and is congratulated by the president.