From recruitment and orientation through classes and final exams, the efforts of the Northeastern Illinois University faculty and staff are all geared towards one goal: seeing our students cross the stage as graduates. Earning a bachelor's or master's degree is a great achievement, and the Northeastern community celebrates the culmination of the long and rewarding educational journey of our graduates with two Commencement ceremonies each year.

Commencement is a ceremony rich in meaning and tradition and filled with enough pomp and circumstance to celebrate the magnitude of the moment. The ceremony itself, which used to take place on NEIU's Main Campus, is now held at the UIC Pavilion to accommodate the increasing number of Northeastern graduates and the many classmates, family and friends celebrating their success.

This page highlights Northeastern’s Commencement history and the symbolism and meaning behind our many Commencement traditions.

Ceremonial Orb

The orb is a symbol of the authority and stewardship vested in the President by the Board of Trustees. Northeastern Illinois University’s orb is a modern version of the medieval orbs, which were symbolic renditions of real maps used by scholars of that time to understand the world. In the Middle Ages, the orb and scepter (mace) were carried at the time of coronation to symbolize the king’s and/or queen’s authority and stewardship. The orb symbolized the ruler’s responsibility to care for the world he or she governed. It, too, symbolizes that the Board of Trustees entrusts the President with the care of the members of the University community as well as with the responsible stewardship of the University’s resources. It is to be carried before the President during any official processional or recessional.

At the December 2013 Commencement Ceremony the Northeastern Illinois University Foundation presented President Sharon K. Hahs with a newly commissioned orb. The orb was designed by Professor Jane Weintraub of Northeastern’s Art Department, and then fabricated by Chicago-based R. S. Owens, a company especially known for its production of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Oscar®. The 8-inch metallic orb has a silver finish with the university seal affixed to the front. The names of those who have served as presidents, principals and campus deans of the institution are etched onto the orb’s surface. Additional names of future leaders will be added upon their inauguration.

Significant dates in the University’s history are also included on the orb. The orb rests on a stone base formed in the shape of Illinois. The inscribed text reflects the various titles the President has held prior to assuming the presidency of Northeastern Illinois University and is representative of the experience and knowledge brought to the position. The base will change with each newly inaugurated president.

Historical Timeline

Cook County Normal School (1867-1896)
Daniel Sanborn Wentworth, Principal, 1867-1882
William C. Dodge, Acting Principal, 1882-1883
Francis Wayland Parker, Principal, 1883-1899

Chicago Normal School (1896-1938)
William Griffin, Acting Principal, 1899
Arnold Tompkins, Principal, 1900-1905
Ella Flagg Young, Principal, 1905-1909
William Bishop Owen, Principal/President, 1909-1928
Hazel Stillman, Acting President, 1928
Butler Laughlin, President, 1928-1936

Chicago Teachers College (1938-1965)
Verne O. Graham, President, 1936-1938
John A. Bartky, President, 1938-1942
John I. Swearingen, Acting President, 1942-1948
Raymond Mack Cook, Dean, 1948-1960; Dean of Chicago Teachers College South 1961-1965

Chicago Teachers College North (1960-1965)
Roy Newell Jervis, Dean, 1960-1962

Northeastern Illinois State College (1966-1971)
Jerome M. Sachs, Dean, 1962-1971

Northeastern Illinois University (1971-present)
Jerome M. Sachs, President, 1971-1973
James Mullen, President, 1973-1976
William Lienemann, Acting President, 1976
Ronald Williams, President, 1976-1985
Gordon H. Lamb, President, 1986-1995
Salme Harju Steinberg, President, 1995-2007
Sharon K. Hahs, President, 2007-2016
Richard J. Helldobler, Interim President, 2016-2018
Wamucii Njogu, Acting President, 2018
Gloria J. Gibson, President, 2018-present

Academic Regalia: An Overview

Academic regalia dates back to the medieval universities of the 12th century. Scholars were members of religious orders, then guilds. The University was a guild of Masters of Arts, where the Bachelor was an apprentice to the Master. The first known statute governing academic dress appeared in 1321 at the University of Coimbra (Portugal). The practice in the United States goes back to 1754, when King George II transplanted many regulations from Oxford and Cambridge to the newly chartered King’s College (now Columbia University in New York). The principal features of academic regalia are the gown, cap and hood.


The bachelor’s gown is distinguished by long pointed sleeves and is worn closed, while the master’s gown, which may be worn open or closed, has long closed sleeves from which the forearm emerges through a slit near the elbow. The doctor’s gown is faced with broad velvet panels and has full round sleeves that bear three velvet bars.


The square cap originated at Oxford in the 16th century and is the same for all degrees, with the tassel in black or in the color of the field of study; doctors are privileged to wear gold tassels.


Originally, the hood was a tippet, a shoulder covering worn by medieval friars during the 14th century and used to cover the head. When caps were adopted in the 15th century, hoods became ornamental and were draped over the shoulder and down the back. Today, the length of the hood and the width of the velvet border that edges it varies with the degree, while the color of the border represents the field of learning: Blue (light) - Education; Blue (dark) - Philosophy; Brown - Fine Arts; Copper - Economics; Drab - Business, Commerce; Gray (silver) - Oratory; Green (sage) - Physical Education; Pink - Music; Purple - Law; Scarlet - Theology; White - Arts, Letters; Humanities; Yellow (gold) - Science

Presidential Regalia

All academic regalia have their roots in the first universities in Europe in the 12th century, when the ordinary dress of the scholar was the dress of the cleric. The costume bestowed honor, but it also served the functional purpose of keeping medieval scholars warm in unheated buildings. Presidential regalia are unique among academic vestments in that they symbolize the president’s rank and authority as the chief official of the institution rather than reflecting an individual’s academic credentials. There are four velvet bars known as chevrons on the sleeves of presidential regalia. Standard doctor’s robes feature three.

University presidents wear their distinctive regalia when participating in official university ceremonies and convocations. The regalia are also worn when representing the institution in official academic occasions at other universities. Northeastern Illinois University’s presidential regalia was first worn by President Sharon K. Hahs at the Commencement Ceremony in December 2013. The body of the robe is made of cotton polyester, with velvet panels and four chevrons on the sleeves in Fidelio blue velvet indicative of the doctorate of philosophy.

The hood is traditional doctoral length banded in Fidelio velvet accented with gold trim. The colors inside of the hood are traditionally from the institution granting the degree. For the presidential hood the colors are Northeastern Illinois University’s blue and gold in silk satin and faille. The tam is made of rayon velvet with a gold bullion tassel. The presidential medallion is worn and contains the university seal.

Medallion and Seal

The medallion and seal are symbols of the position of President of the University. The university seal is the symbol of the University. The decorative features of the cast medallion incorporate the university seal. Combining both traditional and contemporary elements, the seal of Northeastern Illinois University represents the history and mission of the institution. The book and the flame are classic symbols of knowledge and enlightenment. The skyline and the globe symbolize the urban setting and the involvement of the University in a global society.

Academic Honors Medallions

There are two types of Academic Honors medallions. The first is for recognition of participation in the University Honors program, a rigorous curriculum of small classes, honors seminars and other challenging academic experiences. The torch of learning on the medallion has the word “HONORS” spelled out in the flame.

The second is to recognize overall academic achievement in the form of high grades, and therefore a high grade point average. There are three different medallions: the bronze represents cum laude (GPA=3.5-3.74), the silver medallion represents magna cum laude (GPA=3.75-3.89), and our highest honor, summa cum laude, is symbolized by a gold medallion (GPA=3.90-4.0). The medallions worn by honors graduates during Commencement acknowledge the students’ and the University’s commitment to academic excellence.