Inaugural traditions: Medallion, mace have medieval roots, modern touches

The inauguration ceremony for UW-Green Bay’s fifth chancellor, Dr. Thomas K. Harden, will be alive with pomp and pageantry on the stage of the Weidner Center at 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 30.

The event will highlight traditions and symbols familiar for centuries across American higher education and around the world. Many of these customs originated with the academies of medieval Europe, especially England. Others have been specially adapted by the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay as the 41-year-old institution develops and embraces its own traditions.

The inauguration event is free and open to all. Things to notice:

Chancellor’s Medallion

Chancellor's MedallionThe medallion represents the authority of the chancellor and has also been used in academic ceremonies since the Middle Ages. At the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, the medallion is worn during commencement and on other ceremonial occasions.

UW System President Kevin Reilly will present the symbol of office to Thomas K. Harden, placing it around the chancellor’s shoulders, as a centerpiece of the Oct. 30 investiture.

Founding Chancellor Edward Weidner commissioned the medallion for the investiture of David Outcalt as the institution’s second chancellor on March 21, 1987. The sterling silver piece was designed and created by Wisconsin metalsmith and jeweler Linda Threadgill of East Troy. It is a stylized representation of the phoenix and bears the letters “UWGB,” the monogram used as an official institutional mark during UW-Green Bay’s first decade of existence in the 1970s.

The University Mace

University MaceThe University Mace — a ceremonial staff signifying authority — will occupy a position of prominence at the investiture of Dr. Thomas K. Harden.

The mace will be carried during the processional by the University’s most senior faculty member, Ismail Shariff, distinguished economist and Green Bay professor since 1967.

The first maces were spiked clubs used to smash armor. The mace bearer protected the leader of a kingdom, cathedral or university. Today’s versions are art works used in civic and academic ceremonies, typically at larger universities in the United States.

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay mace offers a contemporary turn on this medieval tradition with a stainless steel design. The staff has at its top a phoenix standing upon a representation of an ancient astronomical instrument, in this case bearing images of the Milky Way and the double helix of DNA. The piece was created in 2001 by acclaimed metals artist Prof. Emeritus David Damkoehler of the UW-Green Bay faculty.

When not in use at commencement and other academic ceremonies the University Mace is on permanent display near the main desk of the University’s Cofrin Library.

Robes and regalia

The structure of the ceremony is based on customs dating to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The academic caps and gowns worn by participants in the processional and instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever been to a graduation ceremony, largely reflect styles used for centuries at Oxford and Cambridge in England. Academic robes have been worn since colonial times in the United States, and the practice was standardized by intercollegiate code in 1895. Robes, hoods, tams, mortarboards and velvet bands worn along the sleeves vary in color and design according to the highest academic degree held by the individual, the school colors of the granting institution, or the field of study.

Delegates to the inauguration come from universities from across Wisconsin and the United States. Their place in the procession is ordered by the founding year of the institution they represent, with the oldest first. Among those near or at the head of the line for the Oct. 30 celebration at UW-Green Bay will be representatives of Beloit College and Carroll University, each founded in 1846.

Ceremonial document

Ceremonial documentDuring the ceremony, Dr. Thomas K. Harden will signify his commitment to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s mission by adding his signature to a parchment document.

The document, stored as a scroll inside the handle of the University Mace, carries the following proclamation:

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay is dedicated to the idea of an educated person as one who is guided by the love of learning, committed to inquiry, creativity and scholarship through interdisciplinary and disciplinary approaches to defining and solving problems, and who is an active citizen providing service to the community.

The University’s first three chancellors — Edward Weidner, David Outcalt and Mark Perkins — signed the document when the mace was dedicated May 19, 2001 at spring commencement. Bruce Shepard added his signature during a ceremony within the ceremony at his own inauguration on Sept. 20, 2002.

A framed copy of the proclamation is on permanent display, alongside the mace, at the UW-Green Bay Cofrin Library.

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