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The University Mace: An Essential Commencement Tradition

Former University Vice Provost Dr. Gwen Hall carries the University’s mace at the 2019 Commencement.

By Dr. Mark Bond
Faculty Member, School of Security and Global Studies

Our University’s graduations have always been a special occasion for celebrating academic excellence. To meet our adult learners as they celebrate their accomplishments with family and friends is a special time.

Commencement ceremonies are also an affirmation of our mission as a university and commitment to our students. It’s our way of showing that we are here for you and care about you taking your new knowledge into your chosen fields.

Looking Back at My First Commencement

in the late spring of 2001, I attended my first Commencement ceremony at the Army and Navy Club in Washington, DC. There were 16 students, family and friends in attendance.

I was thrilled to watch the students celebrate their academic achievement. Each student was given the opportunity to speak at this graduation; they shared their journey and what the University meant to them as adult learners.

The students were gracious and humble about their accomplishments. They had words of wisdom and hope in their messages.

I was very honored to have shared this beautiful milestone with our students. It is safe to say that there were no dry eyes during the celebration.

The First Commencement I Attended Changed Me as an Educator

That graduation in 2001 was powerful, and it changed me as a professor. I wanted to do more for my students; I wanted to be a better classroom instructor and mentor for them. I wanted to find new ways to transfer knowledge that would stay with my students beyond our time in the classroom.

I also decided at this Commencement that I would also return to school and learn how to be the best instructor I could be. This spark, started by listening to our graduates, led me beyond my discipline of study as I furthered my education.

I took classes in curriculum design, distance education pedagogy and adult learner mentoring to help me accomplish the goal of being the best criminal justice and criminology instructor I could be. My first University Commencement was another big step on my journey of lifelong learning to improve my teaching skills and give back to the University community.

As the University grew and added new academic programs, our Commencement celebrations became the highlight of the academic year. As the graduation date gets closer, the excitement and anticipation grow within the University.

Graduation Traditions

Celebrating our students’ academic excellence and success has been reflected in the growth of our graduation celebrations. The Friday before Commencement allows the entire university community to gather together and several traditions have formed.

Volunteers at the community service event.

One of my favorite traditions is the community service event where students, their families, faculty and University staff prepare meals to be shipped to other countries to address the problem of famine. Giving back to others is a great way to kick off Commencement weekend and is the foundation of who we are in the University community.

The University Mace

Higher learning universities’ graduation ceremonies are steeped in traditions and protocols. One of these traditions is the university mace. This tradition derives from medieval England when the mace bearer held the mace for dignitaries at the beginning of ceremonial functions.

Our university mace is a beautifully carved decorated staff and symbolizes the university’s governing authority and peaceful leadership. The person carrying the university mace leads the academic procession at Commencement.

old university mace
An older version of the University Mace. Image courtesy of Justin McHenry, University Archivist.

Dr. Gwen Hall: The University’s Mace Bearer for 14 Years

As a longtime faculty member and senior academic leader, Dr. Gwen Hall was traditionally given the honor of being the university’s Mace Bearer at Commencement. She established this tradition and carried it out with dignity and honor.

When our graduates were lined up and paraded into the Commencement ceremony, Dr. Hall was at the front, leading the way and carrying the university mace for all to see. Dr. Hall was the Mace Bearer for 14 years from 2005-2019.   

Taking Over Carrying the University Mace

This year, our graduation celebration will be different. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the University’s in-person graduation to be canceled for the last two years, and we used a virtual Commencement instead.

But this year, we will have an in-person Commencement at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland, As the fog of the COVID-19 pandemic is slowly lifting, we will celebrate three graduating classes: the Class of 2020, 2021 and 2022.

This will be our biggest graduation celebration yet! It is an exciting time, as we will have a full day of graduate and undergraduate graduation ceremonies.  

I was asked by the University if I would be one of the Mace Bearers at this year’s graduation celebration. This was an honor I never anticipated; however, I am humbled and grateful to have been selected.

The traditions that Dr. Hall established as the University’s Mace Bearer have now been passed to me. As I lead the University’s graduation procession this year, I will do it proudly, knowing I am honoring all of our graduates as they celebrate their academic achievement with family and friends.

Mark Bond, Ed.D., is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies. He holds an M.S. in criminal justice from Southwest University, an M.A. in educational leadership from Touro University International, and an Ed.D. in Education: College Teaching and Learning from Walden University.

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