Some common graduation ceremony rituals are wearing a cap and gown and marching down the aisle to "Pomp and Circumstance." In addition, most graduation ceremonies include graduates tossing their caps into the air and turning the tassle to the other side of the cap during the ceremony.
Sir Edward Elgar wrote "Pomp and Circumstance" in 1901. Yale University played the song in 1905 when Elgar received an honorary doctorate from the school. The song quickly became synonymous with a processional or recessional in a graduation ceremony.
The tradition of graduates attending the ceremony in a cap and gown dates back to days before heating systems provided ample heat in university buildings. Graduates wore gowns to keep warm, and the dress became traditional for graduation ceremonies. Graduation caps signify intelligence and superiority. Historically, red was the most common color of graduation caps, but in modern days, graduates usually wear caps that represent the school's colors.
Graduates toss caps into the air at the end of the ceremony because in 1912, graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy received new hats upon graduation and no longer needed their old hats. The graduates tossed the hats into the air in celebration because they didn't need to find them after the ceremony. Tossing the cap represents the end of an era, specifically the end of a student's attendance at the school.
In addition, graduates turn the tassle to the other side of the cap to mark that the graduate is no longer a student but a graduate. Commonly, students move the tassle to the other side of the cap immediately upon receiving a diploma. This tradition developed in the 20th century.