The Unique Stories Behind These Student’s Decorated Mortarboards

Cap? Check. Gown? Check. Decorations?

For many students in the Class of 2022, the Commencement regalia isn’t complete without some personalization. And perhaps the age-old costumes—the tradition of wearing caps and gowns dates back to the Middle Ages—are due for an upgrade, after all.

When universities were founded by churches, students were clerics and were required to wear gowns all the time, according to the Boston Globe. The cap we know today, also called a mortarboard, gets its name from its striking similarity to a mason’s square board, used to carry mortar. It “is thought to have evolved from a tufted, square cap (called a pileus quadratus) worn by medieval laity,” or ordinary people, the Globe reports.

Whether it’s to celebrate their accomplishments at Northeastern, remember loved ones who helped along the way, or look forward to the future, there’s certainly nothing ordinary about these mortarboards.

Sharice Nazaire, computer engineering and computer science

Adorned with family photos, Nazaire’s cap is a way of paying gratitude to “everyone who sacrificed so much to help me get here today,” she says. Photos of her father, mother, uncle, grandmother, and cousins, will cross the stage with her at Fenway Park.

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Carla McDonough, theater

McDonough and her roommate had a cap-decorating party at their house one night as a way to celebrate the special occasion of their imminent graduation. The result? A wearable ode to all the people who’ve supported McDonough on her undergraduate journey, she says. “It took me a little bit longer to get here than most people,” says McDonough, 27. “But I’m so filled with gratitude for everyone who’s helped me along the way.”

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Sara Hartleben, graphic design

Hartleben’s stark white illustration features a celebration, she says. “I got to use my illustration style on this, and it just represents a party!”

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Marena Ramirez, media arts and communication studies

Growing up, Ramirez and her grandmother would watch Tweety Bird cartoons together, she says. The hand-drawn likeness on her graduation cap is in memory of Ramirez’s grandmother, who passed a few months ago, she says. “She took care of me, and I wanted her to be here with me for my graduation.”

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Zhi Li, communication studies

Li, who attended the university’s cap-decorating event, utilized bold, bright lettering for his initials. “I wanted to have something personal—something that was unique to me,” he says. It doesn’t hurt that his cap looks good in his family’s Commencement photo ops, either.

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Shira Weiss, theater

Weiss’s cap features a quote from her favorite podcast, “Welcome to Night Vale,” that says, “Time is weird, so is space. I hope ours match again someday.” Something about the sentiment just resonated with Weiss. “It’s amazing and cool that all of us ended up in this time and space together,” she says of her Northeastern friends and classmates. “Now we’re all moving on to different times and different spaces, but I hope our paths cross again in the future.”

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Diana Steelman, graphic design

Steelman, who attended a cap-decorating event on Northeastern’s Boston campus, was struggling for inspiration when she just started doodling. “This is a doodle I’ve been doing since middle school,” she says, “and it felt right to include it for my college graduation, too.”

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Sakura Chen, communication studies

Featuring a clever play on words, Chen’s cap is a nod to her recently completed undergraduate career at Northeastern and her yet-to-begin graduate career at Johns Hopkins University, where she’ll study health communications. The cherry blossoms that bloom on one side are symbolic of her name, Sakura, which means “cherry blossom” in Japanese, she says.

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Elaine Zhang, interaction design

Featuring an apt episode title from the hit show, “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” Zhang’s cap is a reminder that she’s at “The Crossroads of Destiny,” she says. “I grew up with the show, and it felt like an appropriate phrase from one of the season finales,” Zhang says. The purple flowers? “Just for aesthetics.”

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

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