We asked nine Tufts professors to tell us the personal stories behind their elaborate Commencement fashions.
This May, faculty from every Tufts campus and academic discipline will gather together in front of Ballou Hall to celebrate Commencement. It is a day of rejoicing, unity, pride, and tradition—with the occasional dash of fashion thrown into the mix. Graduation attire—the fine robes, black velvet hats, and golden tassels—may be part of a tradition that dates back to the Europe of the Middle Ages, but for some professors academic regalia tells a story, one that reflects their own academic journey, their personal identity and accomplishments. Here, nine Tufts professors share the stories behind what they will be wearing as they pass through the sea of excited graduates and proud parents on Commencement Day.
Professor of Music David Locke is photographed in his usual Commencement regalia—the zupiligu (hat), bingma (smock), kurugu (pants), zolugu (necklace), and zuli (whisks) that were given to him by his teacher in Ghana, where Locke lived for two years while studying for his Ph.D. “African traditions are sophisticated and beautiful,” Locke said. “Deep sources of knowledge can be found in parts of the world many Americans might overlook.”
“On Commencement Day, when you unzip the case that holds the regalia, it’s almost like this treasure that emerges for a brief moment and then you have to wait until next year to wear it again.”
“The British love hats!” said Professor of Economics Emerita Lynne Pepall, who earned her own puffy hat, along with a Ph.D., at the University of Cambridge. The European regalia Pepall wears here was designed in the monastic tradition—“ Harry Potter style,” she said. The hoods were originally created to keep people’s heads and shoulders warm in drafty buildings or bad weather. Her sleeves, meanwhile, also serve as a pocket where she can discreetly store written remarks.