Notes from the President

Christopher Gray, Ph.D. | Founding President, Erie County Community College of Pennsylvania

In just a few short weeks, we will celebrate a BIG milestone here at EC3: our first commencement ceremony!  The theme for this event is “Firsts” since we are Erie County’s first community college getting ready to confer the first degrees on our first graduates.  This is at the core of our mission, and it’s the event to which all the hard work of our students, faculty, staff, and community has been leading over these past two years.  Did I mention this is BIG?   

I’ve been asked why commencement is such a big deal.  Why all the pomp and circumstance, people wonder?  As with many academic traditions, this one is an old one.  In fact, it dates back to the twelfth century (yes, that’s almost 1000 years!) when the first universities were being established in Europe.  Back then, the language of the academy was Latin, of course, since it was the language of the church; back in those days, the church was the seat of knowledge as well as religious authority.   

We’ve held onto many traditions from this origin point, including graduation regalia.  Modeled on the robes of medieval clergy, everything from the gown to the cap to the hood to the colors is symbolically significant.  In brief, the design of the regalia enables the audience to decode exactly which degree, which academic level, and which subject that each individual graduate has earned.  It’s a sort of academic secret code on full display.   

Our Board of Trustees, invited dignitaries, and EC3 faculty and administrators will wear robes during the ceremony, reflecting their educational background or their position in relation to EC3.  As President of EC3, I likewise wear my educational regalia; in addition, I will wear a special handcrafted medallion bearing the institutional seal and carry a mace, which symbolizes the institution’s governing authority and is reserved for times when the president and Board are in attendance. Hailing likewise from medieval times, the mace signifies that the proceedings have official sanction and is often used in governing bodies worldwide (including meetings of the United States House of Representatives and British Parliament).  It is a symbol of the institution’s authority and the serious nature of this tradition. 

In addition, our students will wear robes to the ceremony.  Their headwear will include mortarboards with tassels on top, which they will shift from right to left upon conference of their degrees. Students who graduate with academic distinction will wear special cords as well.  Those who graduate with honors, also known as cum laude, will have earned a GPA of 3.2 on a 4.0 scale and will wear a red cord around their neck.  Those who graduate with high honors, also known as magna cum laude, will have earned a GPA of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale and will wear a white cord around their neck.  Finally, those who graduate with highest honors, also known as summa cum laude, will have earned a GPA of 3.8 on a 4.0 scale and will wear a gold cord around their neck.  Honors cords allow the audience to see those graduating with academic distinction and their level of achievement.     

But why is it called “commencement” anyway?  After all, a graduation ceremony is held to celebrate the completion of studies, and the word “commence” means “a beginning,” and has its origins in the Old French commencier.   As you may have guessed by now, this is another throwback to medieval Europe.  There’s a slight semantic difference as well; technically speaking, “graduation” is the completion of all degree requirements.  On the other hand, “commencement” is the actual ceremony at which a degree is conferred as that completion is celebrated.  So we celebrate graduation with a commencement ceremony.  Voila!   

With EC3’s first commencement ceremony still a few weeks away, please consider this an invitation from me to you to attend if your schedule permits.  The ceremony will be held on Saturday, June 3, beginning at 10:00am at the Erie West location. I know how busy things get, particularly toward the end of the school year, but we would love for the community to join us in commemorating this historic first for EC3.  More details can be found on our graduation page. If you would like a formal invitation sent to you via USPS please complete our Graduation Invitation Form. 

Our first graduates will cross that stage because of their hard work and dedication, but they will also do so because of the community’s support in making EC3 a reality.  This is your celebration, too, and we hope to see you there!