The meaning of graduation honor cords

Updated July 19, 2017

Graduating from high school or a university is an achievement and an honour. To recognise those who achieve this, the graduation ceremony is held to publicly present them with their diplomas and awards. Part of the observance of graduation involves the wearing of the cap, gown and other ceremonial accessories. The honour cord is one such accessory worn during graduation exercises. It comes in different colours, with each colour having a different significance.


An honour cord is a long cord made up of twisted or intertwined strands with a tassel on each end. The cords can be a single colour or a combination of colours twisted together. Honour cords are usually worn in pairs, with the two cords tied together at their midpoints. The cords are worn around the neck with the ends of the cords hanging down the front side of the graduate's gown and two tassels on each side.


The honour cord is used to signify that the wearer has attained some specific honour or distinction, academic or otherwise. An honour cord is often bestowed on students who are members of a specific honour society. Colleges may award honour cords to students who graduate with honours, such as cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude. Different colours of honour cords can be used to signify different accomplishments or affiliations within each specific college or high school.

College Color Code

Many universities have adopted their own colour code for the use of honour cords, but there are colour guidelines already established. The Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS) has established an honour cord registry that assigns specific colours to established societies. For example, Beta Kappa Chi is assigned the single colour of royal blue, while Delta Mu Delta is given two colours: purple and gold. Universities have the freedom to use the ACHS system or establish their own.

High School Usage

High schools also use honour cords during graduation ceremonies, although they often stand for different things than they do in college. For example, different coloured cords can denote that the graduating student achieved excellence in a certain subject such as mathematics or social studies. They can be awarded to students for being in chorus or band, being a member of the honour society, or for serving on the student council. It is strictly up to the school involved to decide what colours to use for what achievements.

Other Accessories

The honour cord is just one accessory that can be worn with the basic cap and gown. The cap was originally an unadorned piece of headwear, but the tassel was later added to it, with different colours signifying specific achievements. The hood is a long covering worn over the shoulders outside the gown, with different styles and colours designating different academic degrees. Stoles are a wide piece of decorative cloth worn around the neck so that the ends hang loose down the front of the gown.

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About the Author

Stanley Cravens became involved in writing in his grade school years. His work has been featured in several local and regional Illinois newspapers, and he is currently a contributing writer to the websites eHow and the Mr. Cravens' formal education was obtained at Lakeland Junior College and the University of Illinois.