Oregon State University's student-run lifestyle magazine

Beaver's Digest

Oregon State University's student-run lifestyle magazine

Beaver's Digest

Oregon State University's student-run lifestyle magazine

Beaver's Digest

Latest issue

Pearls, Watches, Rings, and Coats; What a Graduate Deserves

Rida Kauser, OMN Illustrator

With graduation season upon us, many are excitedly awaiting the moment they walk across the stage and get a diploma placed in their hands – and the moment after. Stepping off the stage, degree-in-hand, into the waiting arms of loved ones – perhaps with a few gifts as well.

In 1969, Buzz Aldrin planted his boot onto gray lunar dust as part of the first crew on the moon. Underneath the layers of his suit, the silver band of an Omega Speedmaster watch clasped tightly to his skin – the watch gifted to him from his father upon graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. 

Unfortunately, the watch was lost, somewhere between the return capsule and the Smithsonian. But most graduation gifts stay with a graduate for a lifetime, in their many varied forms.

Watches are one of the most traditional graduation gifts, for a number of different reasons. According to Hook & Gaff, a watch company with a section dedicated to gradaction watches, “it’s both sentimental and practical. It’s a reminder of timeliness and professionalism; it’s downright useful; and it also serves as a quiet reminder of all the hours spent studying, learning and growing.”

Among those who have flouted timepieces received upon graduation are presidents, like John F. Kennedy upon graduating Harvard, and nobel-prize winners, like Albert Einstein upon graduating the Swiss federal polytechnic school in Zürich.

Watches were usually reserved for graduating men, whereas women’s graduation gifts were oftentimes other pieces of jewelry; earring, necklaces, bracelets. 

Pearls were especially popular in the early nineteenth century as a gift to women who were entering into society – which translated into graduation later. 

“I received my first set of pearls when I graduated from high school,” said Mary Alice Monroe, author of The Summer Girls. “This is a tradition in my family.  I was so proud to wear them, though these pearls were not handed down to me from my mother but acquired for the occasion.”

It is unclear as to why pearls were the chosen symbol of a woman graduating, or advancing to a next chapter of life.

 In the ancient world, pearls were harder to come by than most gems and, because of this, were deeply revered. Their opaque whiteness, in the western world, became a symbol of purity and innocence – and especially associated them with the feminine.

This may be the reason they are highly coveted and became such an outstanding symbol, or perhaps it was simply tradition.

Specific majors have their own graduation traditions, as well.

Perhaps one of the most well known is the White Coat Ceremony for medical students, where new doctors receive their iconic white coats. The ceremony was created by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation in 1993, and upon receiving their coat, the student recites the Hippocratic Oath, pledging themselves in ethical service.

For engineers, particularly those in Canada, an iron ring is given to them upon graduating

H. E. T. Haultain, a professor at the University of Toronto, decided in 1922 that engineers should also have an ethical oath to adhere to – much like the doctor’s Hippocratic oath. With the help of his friend, Rudyard Kipling (the author of The Jungle Book) they drafted the oath, which would be taken after an engineer received an iron ring.

The ring is purposefully manufactured to have rough edges on its facets, in order to drag across the engineer’s papers and drafts as a constant reminder of the oath they took. Senior engineers’ rings had smoothed edges, begetting their experience.

Although it is a tradition mostly reserved for Canadian engineers, the Order of Engineers in the U.S. uses it as well.

Graduation traditions change from school to school, family to family and age to age. Now, most students receive money to help them into their next stage of life. Some though are just happy to get a diploma.


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