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Traditions and Symbols

Academic Regalia

Academic ceremonies, with their gowns, mortarboards, tassels, hoods and maces are colorful traditions handed down from European universities of the Middle Ages. The first organized institutions of learning took form during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, generally under the jurisdiction of the church. Academic regalia, as we know it today, have evolved from the robes, hoods, and caps worn mainly for warmth in unheated buildings by the clerics, monks, and priests who were the first students. While European universities continue to show great diversity in their academic dress, American universities, in 1895, adopted a code of academic uniformity. The colors, designs, and opulence used in the tassels, hoods, velvet and satin trimmings, and robes you see today designate everything from the level of degree held by the wearer, the field of study and the institution from which the degree was earned.

  • Agriculture: Maize
  • Arts, Letters, Humanities: White
  • Commerce, Accountancy, Business: Drab
  • Dentistry: Lilac
  • Economics: Copper
  • Education: Light Blue
  • Engineering: Orange
  • Fine Arts, including Architecture: Brown
  • Forestry: Russet
  • Journalism: Crimson
  • Law: Purple
  • Library Science: Lemon
  • Medicine: Green
  • Music: Pink
  • Nursing: Apricot
  • Oratory (Speech): Silver Gray
  • Pharmacy: Olive Green
  • Philosophy: Dark Blue
  • Physical Education: Sage Green
  • Public Administration, including Foreign Service: Peacock Blue
  • Public Health: Salmon Pink
  • Science: Golden Yellow
  • Social Work: Citron
  • Theology: Scarlet
  • Veterinary Science: Gray

The Seal of the University of California

The present seal, designed by Tiffany and Company, has been used since 1910. The seal incorporates symbolic icons and phrases that represent the image of the university. The open book is symbolic of the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge; the letter “A” highlighted in the text of the book represents the beginning of wisdom. Above the book is a five-pointed star emanating rays of light, which also represents the discovery and sharing of knowledge. The English translation of the university motto, “Fiat Lux,” or “Let There be Light” is displayed upon a scroll, representing the coming of light, knowledge and wisdom into the world. The date upon the seal is the founding date of the University.

The Chancellor's Medal

The Chancellor’s Medal is worn at ceremonial observances as a part of the chancellor’s regalia. On the front is the University of California seal and the back of the medal displays the names of the campus’ chancellors and year of inauguration. The medal is also the university’s highest accolade bestowed upon an individual for exceptional achievement.

The UC Merced Mace

The Academic Mace’s symbolism is derived from the mythological club of Hercules. During European medieval times, Maces began to be used for civil purposes and were carried in processions of city mayors and of other dignitaries. Eventually, the Mace became a symbol also for academic institutions, an emblem of order and authority in the pageantry of ceremonial occasions. The scepter on the mace stands for lawful power and regal authority, and was carried by Zeus, the Greek God of moral law and order. Most academic maces take the same general shape. At the top is an ornament placed on a bulbous head; ring-shaped enlargements are found on the shaft; and the base is a round, foliated ornament.

The UC Merced mace was a gift from the Class of 2008, to represent the history, ideals and goals of the university. Local woodworker, Pope Lawrence, designed and created the ceremonial mace; Darren Ingram, of Etch This and That, provided the inscription. The UC Merced mace was turned and assembled from walnut wood. The mace head is from a tree grown in the Central Valley area near Le Grand and the wood for the shaft came from a tree grown in Petaluma. The mace has a Chancellor’s Medal inset in the head and a California Sesquicentennial “Diversity” coin in the base.

The UC Merced Alma Mater

From the moment they step foot on the UC Merced campus, people often say they feel a sense of pride and belonging. Award-winning composer Jimmy Dunne has attempted to capture the essence of that feeling in ‘My Merced,’ the campus’s official alma mater.

“You can’t walk UC Merced’s campus without being overwhelmed by the passion and will in the eyes of the extraordinary students,” Dunne said.

Once commissioned to write UC Merced's official alma mater, Dunne dove into research. He toured the campus and met with students, alumni, faculty and staff members to get a sense of the community spirit.

“It was a stunning sunset on a crisp spring evening, and I took a walk alone through campus,” Dunne said. “I sat in the grass near the Beginnings statue and looked up at this poetic piece of art — telling the story of what is possible from the beginnings of a seed.” Dunne said he listened to the heartbeats of the students and faculty members passing by on their way to and from class. “I heard three notes: E, F and G,” he said. “And from these three notes, I sat on the lawn overlooking the majesty of the Central Valley and wrote ‘My Merced.’"

The song is a story of a seed that grows into a garden and gives life to dreams. The lyrics speak of “her lantern’s light that shines so bright,” referring to the campus’s popular gathering spot within the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library. Dunne said while most Alma maters are written in the third person, he chose to write “My Merced” in the first person to capture the personal relationship between its students and their beloved university.

Download the full audio of "My Merced"


“My Merced” Lyrics

(Music and lyrics by Jimmy Dunne)


In the soil a dream was planted

In the rich earth, just a seed

The ground was tilled so tenderly

To cultivate – the best in me

And the seed grew to a garden

As far as I can see

She welcomed me with open arms

That gave life to my dreams

Her lantern’s light Shines so bright

For the world to see

My Merced, UC Merced My Merced…

From a seed