The seats in my classroom are empty and my students have all gone off to summer adventures. The industrious ones will attend summer school. The early part of this week I will be reading papers, evaluating competencies and submitting final grades. In two weeks time graduation will occur in a majestic space in Lincoln Center. Although I feel a certain amount of pride as I watch students who I have come to know over 2+ years walk across the stage, I have a confession to make. This should not surprise anyone who knows me but the part of that day I love best of all is dressing up in my academic attire. My only regret is that I only ever wear it it one day a year. I should have tried for a spot at Cambridge or Oxford so I could run around in my gown every day.
Also known as academic dress or academic regalia, the essential components are a robe, a hood and a cap or in my case a velvet tam. There exists an inter-collegiate code that sets out a detailed uniform scheme. Doctoral gowns, in the past black, now include multi-hues matching up with a school’s colors. Sitting on the stage I find myself in the midst of baby blues, dark blues, brown, burgundies and my very own royal blue and gold. According to the rules, if the doctorate is a Ph.D., the hood must contain the dark blue color of philosophy, The sleeves on the gown must have three velvet bands with velvet panels running down the front of the gown. A velvet cap is reserved for doctoral degrees only and can be a 4-6-8 sided tam. Mine is a dark blue with a gold tassel.
Being the performative person that I am, when I put on my academic attire, I feel the pull back to medieval rituals and the dreams I had about being an academic. I become nostalgic and melancholy for a day. Now tempered by reality, department politics and the corporate nature of the university, I long for the time when you remained buried in the stacks rather than in front of your computer. When you searched for a book and became deliriously excited when you found the right one. When you had to xerox articles and hold them in your hands or purchased beautiful notebooks to write your epiphanies and discoveries in. When you could not stop talking about an exciting idea you had, or something you had read and others were excited with you and willing to talk about it for hours. When I was idealistic about what it might mean to be an intellectual in academia. So one day a year when I get dressed in my gown, clothing does what it always does for me…it transports me and I become the academic in my dreams.
Does getting dressed every transport you?