Commencement History

Commencement Contact Info

Uniformed Services University Commencement Office
4301 Jones Bridge Road
Bethesda, Maryland 20814
Telephone: (301) 295-2114
Fax: (301) 295-1943

Did you know...

The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences charter class of 1980 graduated just 29 members. Although these pathfinders were the first to graduate from the nation's only federal health sciences university, they paved the way for thousands to follow. Today, over 7,200 health practitioners and scientists are USU alumni.


Commencement History & Facts

The University

The Uniformed Services University is located in Bethesda, Md. It was chartered by an act of Congress on September 21, 1972. It is the nation's only federal School of Medicine and Graduate School of Nursing.

The curriculum in both schools is traditional in many ways, but they have unique tenets that make the University a special place. Here, students are educated and prepared to take on the challenges of military and public health medicine. It is this focus that allows the USU alumni to provide exceptional care in a diverse range of settings.


The USU Commencement is both a military and academic ceremony. "The President's Own" United States Marine Band performs throughout the ceremony, the USU Color Guard carries symbols of the University and our country, and the medical students take the Oath of Office as they transition from students to physicians. These military-unique features make the USU Commencement truly spectacular.

Though quite singular in many ways, the USU Commencement borrows from the traditions of other American universities. Much like their counterparts, the USU students wear caps and gowns to Commencement instead of their customary service uniforms. Furthermore, in keeping with the time-honored traditions of higher learning, the deans confer master's and doctorate degrees to qualified students.

Academic Regalia: The History

Like most universities, USU borrows academic regalia traditions from the earliest students at the oldest schools. Reaching back to the 12th century, medieval scholars wore cloaks with hoods. This was the simplest and most effective way to stay warm in the unheated stone buildings that functioned as the first scholarly venues.

Moving into the 14th century, modest virtue forbade "excess in apparel" and universities like Oxford and Cambridge prescribed the wearing of long gowns as part of ordinary academic life. Though European universities wielded much control, even to the extent of minor details, there was great diversity among learning academies. In fact, American universities were the first to implement finite systems regulating cut, style, material and color assignment for academic regalia.

The Hood

21st century regalia have transcended their austere roots. The hood, in particular, is quite spectacular. At USU, the hood beautifully apposes school colors — purple and gold — lending color and vibrancy to the Commencement ceremonies. Velvet trim — green, blue, apricot and salmon pink — dress the edge of the hood and vary according to individual fields of learning.

The Gown

The USU master's gown is black and untrimmed with long, oblong sleeves open at the wrist. The doctor's gown, black like the master's, has wide, bell-shaped sleeves and the front is faced with panels of velvet with three bars across each sleeve. The color of the panels and crossbars correspond with the binding or edging of the hood. Green is for medicine, apricot for nursing, blue for doctorates of philosophy and salmon pink for graduates of public health.

Faculty members participating in Commencement wear the university robe or the clothing of their alma mater. The USU president, Dr. Richard Thomas, wears the university gown.

The Cap

On the cap, in the shape of a square mortarboard, hang tassels. The color of these threads coordinate with the velvet trim of the hood and the paneling and crossbar of the doctor's gown. As degrees are conferred, students often move their tassels from the right to the left side. This symbolizes the accomplishment of one of life's great milestones.