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Academic ceremonies - Past and present

The history of academic ceremonies extends all the way back to the Middle Ages. The first doctor’s degree was conferred in Paris in 1150. KTH Royal Institute of Technology conferred its first doctor’s degree in 1929, awarding degrees to five doctors. The awarding of diplomas is much more recent and only became a tradition in the 1990s.

Academic ceremonies -past and present

Academic ceremonies date back a long way. The foundations of higher education were laid in the Middle Ages, and universities emerged in connection with this. The first universities were founded in southern Europe. Bologna and Paris were already in existence by the end of the 12th century, and universities then spread further north through Europe. The first university in the Nordic region was Uppsala, which was founded back in 1477.

Even then, it is reasonable to assume that there was some kind of ceremony held to mark the results of these higher studies. The rituals were drawn from the ecclesiastical tradition but also took elements from the guild system in that the rites guaranteed the professional competence of the people upon whom doctor’s degrees were conferred. According to some sources, the first Philosophiae Doctor was awarded in Paris in 1150. The first doctor’s degree in the Nordic region was conferred in Uppsala in 1488.

After that, the academic ceremonies languished in the shadows for many years. In the 17th century, the three Swedish universities – located in Uppsala, Turku and Lund – held ceremonies conferring master’s degrees according to a rolling schedule. The men (for it was only men in those days) upon whom degrees were conferred received a laurel wreath and a ring. The young man had to pay for his own clothes, meals and celebrations, so receiving a degree was an expensive business. Moreover, the conferrer and other officials would receive a sum of money to thank them for their efforts.

The master’s degree in the faculty of arts was replaced by the doctorate following reforms in academia in the 19th century. It was not until the 20th century that the conferring of doctor’s degrees gained new ground in Sweden. All Swedish universities hold academic ceremonies, but they differ in how they are conducted; although some elements are present at all of them. Many of the older universities are clearly rooted in a long tradition (the ceremony is held in Latin at Uppsala and Lund), while the newer ones have created more modern ceremonies, but with many of the traditional elements still present.

Conferring of doctor’s degrees and professorial inauguration at KTH

The conferring of doctor’s degrees and professorial inauguration is, and always has been, KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s biggest academic ceremony.

KTH's 1929 conferring of doctor’s degrees, illustrated by A. Fischer in SvD.

In 1927, KTH was granted the right to confer degrees upon doctors of technology. KTH conferred its first doctor’s degrees in technology on 25 May 1929 in the Great Hall at the Royal Academy of Music. The five promovendi receiving their doctoral rings and certificates were engineers Fredrik Dahlgren, Hjalmar Granholm, Ivar Herlitz, Ragnar Lundholm and John Wennerberg. The professorial inauguration of Sten Velander, the newly appointed Professor of Electrical Engineering, was held at the same time. The next time doctor’s degrees were conferred was not until 1943, when honorary doctors of technology were appointed at KTH for the first time. The first woman to receive a doctorate at KTH was Katarina Kraft Ahnlund, who received her doctorate in 1956 with her thesis entitled Transmutations of light nuclei: Experimental determinations of reaction energies, atomic masses and angular distributions. She thus became the first woman in Sweden to receive the title of Doctor of Technology. More information about her is available here

Inaugurations of newly appointed professors are also held at KTH’s conferral and inauguration ceremony. To be appointed professor means that one has been awarded the highest academic title in the academic community. The professors who took up their posts during the year are inaugurated during the ceremony, and each of them is honoured with a video about their work and a diploma presented by the president.

People who have been appointed honorary doctors by KTH are recognised during the ceremony alongside promovendi and inaugurands, and prizes are awarded, including KTH’s Grand Prize. 

It takes a long time to prepare the conferral ceremony, and the project is managed by the KTH master of ceremonies . It involves a variety of elements, ranging from making the ceremonial part flow as smoothly as possible to the banquet with its menu,entertainment and table settings according to a specific schedule. It all culminates in a ceremony at the Concert Hall for around 1400 guests, followed by a banquet at the City Hall for around 1100 guests.

Separate ceremonies for conferral of doctor’s degrees and professorial inaugurations have been conducted since 2021. The ceremony for conferral of doctor’s degrees takes place in autumn, while the professorial inauguration takes place in spring. 

Insignia

Insignia are the objects associated with the for conferral of doctor’s degrees, i.e. the doctoral cap, the doctoral ring and the doctor’s diploma. Doctor’s diplomas are awarded to the new doctors at the KTH conferral ceremony. Honorary doctors receive a doctoral cap, ring and diploma. The doctoral cap symbolises freedom, but also power. At KTH, the cap is black with a gold buckle depicting a triangle with a laurel wreath. The doctoral ring is made of gold and symbolises fidelity. The diploma was originally a written confirmation of the rights to which the recipient of the doctor’s degree was entitled. Today, it serves a symbolic function as the degree certificate is the formal evidence of the doctor’s degree.

Photo: Studio slakthuset

A doctoral cap takes about six weeks to make and is made entirely by hand. Professor Mattias Uhlén conferred doctor’s degrees during KTH’s 2014 conferral ceremony and ordered a doctoral cap. You can find out more about his encounter with capmaker Mark Eriksson here

Graduation ceremony

The graduation ceremony at KTH is much more recent. It was only in the 1990s that celebration of the completion of first and second cycle education began. Prior to that, degree certificates were sent out by post and that concluded students’ studies. The graduation ceremony is now held at City Hall. This is a formal ceremony with speeches by the President or the vice-president and the chair of the student union of the institute of technology. Music is performed by the KTH Academic Orchestra and the Kongliga Teknologkören Choir. During the graduation ceremony, students receive a diploma as a memento. The real evidence of their studies is the degree certificate.

KTH’s ushers  and massed standards are important part of KTH’s academic ceremonies. Their efforts in helping to create a solemn and beautiful backdrop are exemplary.

Small glossary

Dean is always a professor. A dean is the head of administration of a university faculty, and the chair of the faculty council.

Diplomandi are the students who participate in the graduation ceremony.

Graduation ceremony is a ceremony held to celebrate recent graduates: architects, holders of a Master of Science in Engineering, holders of a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, masters of technology, and also candidates in the programmes that culminate in a bachelor’s degree.

The Doctoral hat symbolises freedom. In Sweden, it is always black and bears a gold emblem with a symbol of the different faculties. At KTH, all titles receive the same symbol, which is a laurel wreath embedded in a triangle. During KTH’s ceremony for conferral of doctor’s degrees, the dean “crowns” himself (i.e. puts on his doctoral hat) and only then do all recipients of doctor’s degrees put on their hats. Recipients of doctor’s degrees put on their hats only after they have completed the traditional walk across the Parnassus.

The Doctoral ring symbolises marriage to science. It is worn on the ring finger of the left hand. At KTH, the ring is made of gold and the pattern represents a laurel wreath.

Honorary doctor is anyone who has made meritorious contributions to the university. At KTH, one or more honorary doctorates have been conferred annually since 1944 . Doctor honoris causa, or Doctor h.c. in Latin. 

Insignia is another word for badges of honour, i.e. symbols of office awarded in academic contexts. At KTH, promovendi receive a diploma and honorary doctors receive a diploma, hat and ring.

Inauguration of new professors is the ceremony in which newly appointed professors are inaugurated. Inauguration of the vice-chancellor usually takes place when a vice-chancellor takes office.

Installandi are professors who take office, installanada for a female professor and installandus for a male professor. 

Jubilee doctor is a doctor upon whom doctor’s degrees were conferred 50 years ago.

Ushers are students who assist at the academic ceremonies. Their work is led by the two head ushers. 

Parnassus comes from the Greek mythology, there was a mountain called Parnassus. Traditionally, promovendi climb the Parnassus to receive their insignia. At KTH, students walk across the stage symbolising the Parnassus.

Professor emeritus are professors who have left active service. Emeritus literally means “to have served out”.

Conferment ceremony for PhD's is a ceremony in which a university gives eligible students the actual indication of their doctorate. At KTH, doctors receive a diploma and honorary doctors receive a diploma, hat and ring. 

Conferrer is the professor who awards the insignia during the conferral ceremony.

Promovendi are the new doctors admitted for conferral are referred to as promovendi in the plural and promovendus/promovenda in the singular. They are known as promotus/promota/promoti after their degrees have been conferred upon them.

The president’s chain is a chain made of gold and has nine topazes, one for each school (of which there are now five). In the 1930s, several insignia were created for presidents at Sweden’s higher education institutions. The initiative for KTH’s President's chain was also taken in the 1930s. KTH’s board and faculty joined forces and raised funds. Architect and KTH alumnus Sven Ivar Lind designed it, and Atelier Borgila carried out the work. 

Page responsible:ceremonier@kth.se
Belongs to: About KTH
Last changed: May 23, 2023