Convocation: A guide to McMaster University traditions

A graduate shakes the hand of McMaster's Chancellor as they cross the convocation stage

Universities are steeped in tradition, and convocation is arguably the time when those traditions are most on display.

Since its founding in 1887, thousands of McMaster University students have celebrated and been celebrated at convocation ceremonies. Many official, and unofficial traditions have grown from these celebrations.

Here are a few of those convocation traditions:

The ceremonial mace

A silver ceremonial mace sitting in a green velvet-lined wooden boxMcMaster’s ceremonial mace, given to the university in 1950 by the graduating class of 1900, is a fixture at convocation ceremonies. The mace is carried by the convocation bedel (a role that usually goes to the longest-serving faculty member). During the procession, the bedel walks in front of and protects the chancellor. Once the mace is set on the stage, the convocation ceremony can begin.

Spot the midwife

a shot of people's legs with red shoes on



It’s part of a long-standing midwifery tradition that all graduating midwives in Ontario wear red shoes to their convocation to stand out from the crowd.

Chancellor’s robes

Chancellor Santee Smith in convocation regalia speaking at a podium The chancellor – the university’s honorary head – presides over all convocations. Her seniority is indicated by her robe, which is designed to be more elegant than that of the president’s. It’s also heavier, weighing in at an estimated 20 pounds. The regalia of Santee Smith, McMaster’s chancellor since 2019, incorporates both the traditions of the office of chancellor and Smith’s own Mohawk and Scottish heritage.

The mortarboard

Two people smiling and wearing convocation gowns and mortarboards



According to tradition, only those earning a master’s degree or a PhD wear a mortarboard at convocation. Those earning a bachelor’s degree wear no headgear.


Put a ring on it

Five hands with rings on the pinkies.

Graduating engineering students take part in the Iron Ring Ceremony, an annual rite-of-passage dating back to the 1920s. Students are given a ring that symbolizes the pride engineers have in their profession and serves as a reminder of the obligation to live by a high standard of professional conduct.

New this year, the Faculty of Engineering welcomed friends and family of graduating students to the ceremony. Learn more here. 

The colours of convocation

The backs of several people wearing colourful convocation gowns


The colours of graduation gowns and hoods worn by faculty members  indicate different universities and areas of study.


Photo by the arch

Two students pose for a photo in front of the Edwards Archway on McMaster's campus


The collegiate gothic architectural backdrop of the Edwards Arch on McMaster’s campus is one of the most photographed spots on campus, and that’s especially the case around convocation.

A photo there is a great way to cap off an academic journey, and it’s a wonderful spot for McMaster alumni to come back and visit!

Click here for stories, videos and highlights from Spring 2024 convocation ceremonies and celebration events

Related Stories