Traditions and History

Alumni Hall

Traditions and History

Honors vs. Honours

Since its founding in 1878, The University of Western Ontario has been consistent in its use of the spelling "honor" rather than "honour" on diploma parchments, in Senate minutes and in academic calendar materials. Periodically over the years the Senate has reviewed this practice; the most recent review occurred in April 2019, and as a result, beginning in February 2020, Western is changing “Honors” to “Honours” on degree diplomas.

The designation will eventually change in all occurrences at Western, including all academic programs and modules, and academic policies; however, the initial impact will be degree diplomas.

Beginning February 2020, alumni with “Honors” degrees can request a replacement with the “Honours” designation in line with the Request for a Duplicate/Replacement Diploma procedures and fees.

Convocation Origins

In the eleventh century, a new vitality quickened all aspects of the civilization of Western Europe. The creative forces thus unleashed soon found expression in new institutions, and of these the university bids fair to be the most enduring. The modern university is the lineal descendant of the university of the Middle Ages. Its purposes and organization, even much of its ceremonial role, are medieval in origin.

The medieval university was originally called a studium generale, that is, a place of learning to which teachers and students from anywhere resorted. The first studia were at Salerno, Bologna and Paris. These came into existence spontaneously and developed through the twelfth century as the needs of the time and their inner necessities dictated. In the thirteenth century these spontaneous associations crystallized into guilds or corporations endowed by Church and State with specific privileges which guaranteed the internal autonomy necessary for the vocation of study. To these corporations was increasingly applied the word universitas denoting the entire group of those responsible for the transmission of higher learning and the pursuit of knowledge.

By the beginning of the fourteenth century, two forms of university organization had appeared. At Bologna, which was primarily a higher school of canon and civil law to which came men experienced in ecclesiastical and secular administration, the control of the studium generale passed to the students; hence Bologna was a universitas scholarum. On the other hand in Paris and Oxford, whose dominant faculty was the Faculty of Arts, the studium emerged under the direction of a guild of teachers, a universitas magistrorum. Through its own officials, notably the chancellor (once the symbol of external control and by now of internal autonomy), the guild of teachers developed its courses of instruction, administered its own affairs and admitted to its company only those who had met its intellectual standards. Western stands in the tradition of Paris and Oxford.

Originally the goal of the medieval student was certification by the guild of teachers that he also was qualified to teach (the licentia docendi). With the passage of time the student’s progress through the curriculum was marked by ceremonies which signified his successful attainment of a certain level (gradus or in modern language, degree) of competence. The Bachelor had completed his apprenticeship in the Faculty of Arts. The Master was now qualified to teach in that Faculty and was thus incorporated into the universitas magistrorum. The Doctor was one who, having obtained the mastership, had successfully completed the curriculum of one of the “higher” faculties (in the Middle Ages, law, medicine and theology) and was now qualified to teach in those faculties. Inevitably the degrees of the universitas did more than admit their holders to the teaching profession. They served the wider social purpose of demonstrating their holders’ fitness to serve the entire medieval community.

This year's ceremonies stem from the medieval traditions. The procession of the guild of teachers, whose solemn assembly, or convocation, is the modern equivalent of the medieval magna congregatio of all Faculties, is followed by the Chancellor and the Esquire Bedel carrying the mace, the symbol of the University’s corporate authority. The academic gowns, hoods and caps, once the sober, disciplined dress of secular clergy and teachers, declare in their various designs and colours the academic qualifications of the Faculty. The citations and presentations by the Faculty to the Chancellor attest to the Chancellor and to society the degree of proficiency attained by the students of the University. There follows a visible and public act whereby the universitas magistrorum, acting through its Chancellor, confers upon the students the appropriate degree. It is the act, not a certificate, which constitutes the validity of the degree bestowed. More, the formula, “I admit you” and the placing of the students’ hands within the hands of the Chancellor and his or her associates, bind the students in the appropriate degree to the universitas magistrorum. The students thereafter bear for all time the mark of their association with this University. They have received what the University has been and presently is. Since they bear in themselves the promise of the future, they are what the University hopes to be. For all its solemnity, Convocation is a joyous occasion.

Western's Mace

Maces were originally specialized war clubs, frequently made of metal or garnished with metal spikes. When they were used by knights or other noble warriors, they were often highly decorated. Because maces required no special skills and were effective in close quarter, the “referees” and crowd control officers at medieval tournaments were usually armed with them, as were the escorts of royal judges and lesser magistrates.

From these early uses the functional weapon evolved into a symbolic emblem of legislative and civic authority used by cities and towns, and ultimately by parliament. As the early universities developed into self-governing entities, many of them acquired suitably decorated maces as symbols of their corporate identity and authority, along with their other academic regalia.

Western’s mace was presented to the University by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of London on the occasion of the installation of Dr. G. Edward Hall as President and Vice-Chancellor at the spring convocation in 1948 to mark the 70th anniversary of the University. It is made of silver and is patterned on the mace used by the University of London, except that it is ornamented with symbols derived from the Western coat of arms. The lens-shaped top of the mace bears a rayed sun raised in shallow relief, taken from the upper part of the Western shield. Below this, running in an ornamental frieze around the outer edge of the head of the mace, are the remaining devices from the shield: an open book, crowned demi-lions derived from the arms of the Rev. Canon Alfred Peache (an early benefactor of the University), and a trotting stag within a ring. The sun on top of the mace appears as a full solar disk to suit the circular shape of the mace, whereas it appears as a half sun at the top of the shield.

Originally this demi-sun was meant to represent a setting or “western” sun, alluding to the name of the University; however, it was later officially blazoned as a rising sun in the grant of arms, symbolizing the “rising” expectations of young graduates. Encircling the ball at the foot of the mace is the Latin motto of the University: VERITAS ET UTILITAS.

Convocation Banners

"Gonfalon" is defined by the Oxford dictionary as a "banner, often with streamers, hung from a crossbar."

The medieval term represents a time when gonfalons were popular as identifying signs in processional pageants. They represented various republics in medieval Italy, and were soon adopted by ecclesiastical processions to depict the significance of the honored event. Throughout the centuries, gonfalons have been used to enhance the pageantry involved in a number of ceremonies, and Western displays seventeen unique gonfalons or faculty banners as part of its Convocation. Western’s history lends itself naturally to such a traditional fanfare at its spring and fall graduation ceremonies.

The banners representing the University, its faculties, schools and affiliated colleges whose students are graduating today, are carried into the Convocation Hall at the head of the academic procession and placed in front of the stage. Displayed on the stage are banners representing all faculties, schools and colleges whose students will graduate on other days of Convocation.

The University is appreciative of the work done by members of the Canadian Embroiderers’ Guild, London, who designed and stitched the Convocation banners. The project involved 50 of the Guild’s members and took two years to complete.

Designs and symbols for the faculty banners were suggested by the Dean of the relevant faculty or school, and the hood colours for degrees offered by the unit are incorporated in the banner design. Although conceived with the medieval gonfalons in mind, Western’s banners are modern in design. The banners of the affiliated university colleges carry the Coat of Arms of each.

The gonfalon depicting the University Coat of Arms is dedicated to past President & Vice-Chancellor, K. George Pedersen. It was Dr. Pedersen who initiated the creation of the Convocation banners upon his arrival at Western.

Ivey Banners

The colourful banners hanging above the stage are a gift from former Chancellor Richard M. Ivey and Dr. Beryl Ivey. The banners represent the hood colours of degrees offered by Western. Ideas for the project were suggested by the Iveys, and London artist-architect David Yuhasz was assigned the task of executing the design for the multi-coloured banners. The banners were first displayed at Spring Convocation 1983.

The Ivey family has been a major supporter of the University for many years. Dr. Richard M. Ivey was Chancellor from July 1, 1980-June 30, 1984.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that Western University is located on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek (Ah-nish-in-a-bek), Haudenosaunee (Ho-den-no-show-nee), Lūnaapéewak (Len-ahpay- wuk) and Attawandaron (Add-a-won-da-run) peoples, on lands connected with the London Township and Sombra Treaties of 1796 and the Dish with One Spoon Covenant Wampum.

With this, we respect the longstanding relationships that Indigenous Nations have to this land, as they are the original caretakers. We acknowledge historical and ongoing injustices that Indigenous Peoples (e.g. First Nations, Métis and Inuit) endure in Canada, and we accept responsibility as a public institution to contribute toward revealing and correcting miseducation as well as renewing respectful relationships with Indigenous communities through our teaching, research and community service.