As we approach graduation time, many students have been surprised and disappointed to discover that most congregation ceremonies at Newcastle University do not involve wearing a mortar board, a flat board hat which is traditionally worn at graduation ceremonies.
On the congregations section of its website, Newcastle University describes how the origins of this trend comes from Newcastle’s independence from Durham University in 1963, when it changed from being known as King’s College, the medical and scientific division of the federal University of Durham, to the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. When this was announced on 4 July, students celebrated by throwing their mortar boards into the River Tyne. Since this point, mortar boards have no longer been included in Newcastle University academic dress.
Some students, however, dispel this story as a myth, because Durham University students do not actually wear mortar boards at their graduation either, apart from for very specific degrees, which is also currently the case at Newcastle. PhD student Adam Lowery suggests that Durham may also have abolished the wearing of headgear post-1963 on a separate occasion to us, though he also speculates that it may have been the Newcastle University academics, rather than students, who threw their mortar boards into the River Tyne.
Students at Newcastle University instead wear hooded gowns, although the University assures students that “if you wish to wear a mortar board while you are having your official photographs taken, the photographers will be able to lend you one.” This indeed seems to have been the case with Princess Eugenie, who famously graduated from Newcastle University in 2012 with a 2:1 in English and History of Art; she was pictured without a cap during the actual graduation ceremony, but with one in the professional pictures that were taken afterwards.
A motion was brought to Students’ Union Council in 2017 to protest against the lack of mortar boards, claiming that this makes graduation ceremonies “incomplete” and that “it would be an honour for all graduates if this traditional rule changes”. Unfortunately, but maybe unsurprisingly, this motion did not pass.
Disappointed English Literature and Creative Writing graduate Max Hobbs could barely contain himself upon hearing the news, saying, “I wanted the funny hat - that’s the only reason I came to university.” These views were echoed by Modern Languages graduate Nikita Theophilus, who said: “I think it is a real shame; mortar boards are a traditional part of a graduation gown. And most of us only get to do this once; it's sad that we don't even get to wear the full outfit.”