Happy National Graduation Tassel Day! Join us as we celebrate those thingies on top of your weird cardboard hat on this important holiday. Today we’re celebrating with friend, comedian and vaguely recent tassel-wearer Donnie Sengstack (Twitter: @donsengstack / Instagram: donstengstack / donniesengstack.com)! Let’s party!

Show Notes

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History + fun facts about the holiday

  • According to nationaldaycalendar.com, Tassel Depot founded National Graduation Tassel Day on 5/17 to celebrate the keepsake that marks one of the milestone achievements of our lives
    • The Registrar at National Day Calendar proclaimed the holiday to be observed annually in 2018
  • Tassel Depot is a company that produces “Tassels without Hassles®”, and was established in 1864 by Hofmann & Leavy, Inc. It has been owned and operated by the Leavy family for more than 3 generations, and their products can be found all over the world
    • No word on what happened to Hofmann
    • According to tasseldepot.com, “the Tassel is the only ornament crafted that has lasted throughout history. It is an item that ties loose ends of yarn together and has been used to adorn many things including clothing and uniforms. The tassel was very often the status symbol that differentiated people in the military or religious fields. Cords with tassels were used dating back to the 14th century to represent levels of learning which is similar to the type of Academic Regalia that we still have today. Tassels were also used in the past on keys and other furnishings, creating an art form, now dressing up interiors all over the world. Today, the tassel is used in graduations and other ceremonies both for differentiation and unifying purposes.”
  • According to Wikipedia, a tassel is a finishing feature in fabric and clothing decoration. It is a universal ornament that is seen in varying versions in many cultures around the globe
    • Tassels are normally decorative elements, and as such one often finds them attached, usually along the bottom hem, to garments, curtains, pasties covering the nipples of burlesque performers, or other hangings.
      • The tassel is primarily an ornament, and was at first the casual termination of a cord to prevent unraveling a knot. As time went on, various peoples developed variations on this, until by the 16th century in France, the first Guild of Passementiers was created and documented the art of passementerie. This includes not only the tassel, but all fringes, ornamental cords, galloons, pompons, rosettes, and gimps.
    • In the Hebrew Bible, the Lord spoke to Moses instructing them to tell the Israelites to make tassels (Hebrew: tzitzit–tseet-tseet) on the corners of their garments, to help them remember and keep all the commandments of the Lord and as a sign of holiness.
    • Tassels and their associated forms changed style throughout the years, from the small and casual of Renaissance designs, through the medium sizes and more staid designs of the Empire period to the Victorian Era with the largest and most elaborate decorative flourishes. Some of these designs are returning today from the European and American artisans, who may charge a thousand dollars for a single handmade tassel. The majority of the world’s tassel production, however, takes place in China which mass-produces and exports them globally.
    • In the Middle East, tassels were worn as talismans, especially on headwear. In Egypt, Mesopotamia, and throughout the Arab world tassels were worn by children on hoods or caps to protect them from malevolent spirits and ward off demons.
    • Ceremonial wear–in the US, tassels (or liripipes) are also found on mortarboards during university graduation ceremonies and possibly upon the shoes of the graduates at the ceremony.
  • According to theclassroom.com, the origins of academic dress including hats, tassels, gowns, and hoods date back to the 12th century when universities began to organize.
    • Under Henry VIII’s rule, Tassels (also called tufts) were traditionally worn by Oxford and Cambridge University undergraduates on their caps, those wearing gold tassels were those who had paid for the status of gentleman-commoner, thus receiving increased social prestige and more luxurious accommodation than ordinary commoners who wore plain black tassels on their caps. Today, only the Chancellor of Oxford wears a gold tassel.
    • While European universities vary in the traditions they use, American schools follow a uniform costume code first established by Gardner Cotrell Leonard in 1893
    • There was a sharp decline in academic dress in the years immediately following the Civil War. In Leonard’s opinion, the cause was an Anglophobic distaste for all things British
    • In 1894, an American Intercollegiate Commission met at Columbia University to standardize the styles and color of academic dress, with slight variations of quality and look between the gowns for bachelors, masters, and doctors, respectively. The lining of the hood would indicate the University
    • The idea was that the wealthy students would dress the same as a scholarship student–since they were equal in academic terms, they would be equal in their vesture
      • David Starr Jordan, the founding and, at the time, active president of Stanford University in 1901, held the opposing view that medieval ceremonies should not be artificially revived
    • In 1932, the American Council on Education appointed a committee to review the 1895 code. The updated code for academic costumes was approved in 1932, with some revisions following in 1959 and 1986. Though some schools just do whatever the fuck they want
    • Caps are usually black and generally made from cotton, broadcloth, rayon, or silk. They match the gown material and are only velvet when used for a doctoral degree candidate
    • A long tassel is fastened to the middle point of the top of the cap. The tassel should be black or the color appropriate to the subject, with the exception of the doctor’s cap that may have a tassel of gold. The colors associated with the different disciplines are as follows:Agriculture – Maize
      • Arts, Letters, Humanities – White
      • Commerce, Accountancy, Business – Drab
      • Dentistry – Lilac
      • Economics – Copper
      • Education – Light Blue
      • Engineering – Orange
      • Fine Arts, including Architecture – Brown
      • Forestry – Russet
      • Journalism – Crimson
      • Law – Purple
      • Library Science – Lemon
      • Medicine – Green
      • Music – Pink
      • Nursing – Apricot
      • Oratory (Speech) – Silver Gray
      • Pharmacy – Olive Green
      • Philosophy – Dark Blue
      • Physical Education – Sage Green
      • Public Administration, including Foreign Service – Peacock Blue
      • Public Health – Salmon Pink
      • Science – Citron
      • Theology – Scarlet
      • Veterinary Science – Gray
    • Many schools have adopted a practice of asking candidates to start the graduation ceremony with their tassels on the front right side of the cap until the degrees are conferred, at which point tassels are moved to the left front side of the capThis practice is done as a substitute for individual hooding, which is a tradition where master’s and doctor’s candidates have a hood with their specific discipline colors placed on them by a school representative
      • The practice is a visual indication of the fact that the person can now claim title to the academic degree they earned
  • David Starr Jordan, tassel objector:
    • He was not just the founding president of Stanford University, but also an ichthyologist, educator, peace activist, and eugenicist.
    • At first glance I was excited, because the ichthyosaur is Nevada’s state fossil. Turns out ichthyology is just the study of fish, and ichthyosaur is simply Greek for ‘fish lizard.’
    • He promoted the concept of eugenics “through removal from the breeding pool of those deemed unworthy to reproduce,” and “sought to prevent the decay of the Anglo-Saxon/Nordic race by limiting racial mixing and by preventing the reproduction of those he deemed unfit.” He also chaired the first Committee on Eugenics of the American Breeders Association, from which the California program of forced deportation and sterilization emerged
      • The CA program saw the sterilization of over 20K people between 1919 and 1953 (a third of the US national total of these sterilizations for the same period), to improve their “physical, mental, or moral condition.” This vague wording meant that the law could be applied to patients considered mentally ill, handicapped, sexually deviant, or criminal.
        • Targeted groups fell into three general categories: dependent, delinquent, or mentally deficient
          • “Dependent”: those receiving welfare payments and lacking formal education. This was intended to prevent the poor from procreating
          • “Delinquency”: criminal behavior and sexual promiscuity (specifically among women), the latter of which was seen as a symptom of “feeble-mindedness” so sterilization was used as a “cure”
          • “Mental deficiency”: included, but was not limited to: sexual promiscuity, schizophrenia, alcoholism, epilepsy, Down’s syndrome, the “insane,” and manic depression.
        • People with Spanish surnames were 2.5X as likely to be sterilized as those without. According to theconversation.com, “contemporary politicians and state officials often described Mexicans as inherently less intelligent, immoral, ‘hyperfertile,’ and criminally inclined…their sterilizations were described as necessary to protect the state from increased crime, poverty, and racial degeneracy.”
        • Jordan was a “peace activist” insofar that he contended that war was detrimental to the human species because it removed the strongest men from the gene pool. To be fair, he also thought it was financially irresponsible.
  • He also launched the coverup of the murder of Jane Stanford, who co founded Stanford University with her husband Leland Stanford, and who died on February 28, 1905 at age 76 by strychnine poisoning while vacationing in Oahu. Jordan hired a physician from Hawaii to declare that she had died of heart failure, “a condition whose symptoms bear no relationship to those actually observed.”
    • Strychnine is a crystalline alkaloid commonly used as a pesticide, especially for birds and rodents
    • The symptoms of heart failure typically include shortness of breath, excessive tiredness, and leg swelling, with shortness of breath usually being worse both with exercise and while lying down.
    • Meanwhile, symptoms of strychnine poisoning are considered some of the most dramatic and painful symptoms of any known toxic reaction. “10-20 minutes after exposure, the body’s muscles begin to spasm, starting with the head and neck in the form of trismus (lockjaw) and risus sardonicus (abnormal, sustained spasm of the facial muscles that appears to produce grinning). The spasms then spread to every muscle in the body, with nearly continuous convulsions, and get worse at the slightest stimulus. The convulsions progress, increasing with intensity and frequency until the backbone arches continually. Convulsions lead to lactic acidosis (the buildup of lactate in the body), hyperthermia (elevated body temperature), and rhabdomyolysis (damaged skeletal muscle starts breaking down rapidly). These are followed by postictal depression (altered state of consciousness after seizure). Death comes from asphyxiation caused by paralysis of the neural pathways that control breathing, or by exhaustion from the convulsions. The subject usually dies within 2-3 hours after exposure.”
      • In fact, Jane’s last recorded words were, “My jaws are stiff. This is a horrible way to die.”
    • This was actually the second time that Jane had been poisoned with strychnine. The first time occurred on January 14, 1905, when she drank mineral water that “tasted bitter.” She forced herself to vomit, then sent the water to a pharmacy for analysis after her maid and secretary agreed that it tasted strange. When the analysis turned up with a lethal dose of strychnine, Jane moved out of her house, and the maid fell under suspicion since she had previously shared with the rest of the staff tales of English aristocrats being poisoned by their servants. The maid was subsequently dismissed, but follow-up investigations turned up zilch about anything tying her to the incident.
      • Depressed that some unknown person tried to kill her as well as dealing with a cold, Jane took a trip to Hawaii. On February 28, she asked for bicarbonate of soda (a baking soda solution) to settle her stomach. Her personal secretary (the only other person at the original scene of the crime as well as trusted employee of 20 years) prepared the drink for her
      • The baking soda had been purchased after the firing of the maid, and had been accessible to anyone in Stanford’s residence during the period of time that the party was packing for the trip and hadn’t been used until the night of her death.
    • Jordan’s version of her death was largely accepted until the 1980s, when the appearance of several publications which emphasized the evidence that she was murdered. The source of the strychnine has never been identified.
      • Possible motives for the cover-up include that he may have been acting to protect the university’s reputation, since its finances were precarious at the time; or he may have had a personal motive to eliminate suspicions around an unsolved crime, given that he and Jane had a difficult relationship and she reportedly planned to remove him from his position at the university (how is this motive for JUST the cover-up??)
      • He went so far as to accuse the doctor who attended Jane’s death that the doctor had added the strychnine to the drink AFTER she died.
    • Key quotes from our pal David Starr Jordan: “There cannot be perfect civilization until Man realizes that the rights of every living creature are as sacred as his own.”
      • And, “Whatever you attempt, go at it with spirit.”

Activities to celebrate

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  • From National Day Calendar: “Congratulations to everyone moving their tassel from right to left! Post a photo of your graduates with their tassels using #GraduationTasselDay.”
  • Definitely do not poison anyone, unless they’re into it 
    • Graduation by Kero Kero Bonito
    • All My Friends by LCD Soundsystem
    • Strychnine by The Cramps
    • My Last Semester by The Wonder Years
    • Graduate by Third Eye Blind
    • Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) by Green Day
    • Graduation Day by Kanye West
    • I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack
    • Here’s to the Night by Eve 6
    • Closing Time by Semisonic
    • Goodbye to You by Michelle Branch (since I didn’t get it included in my middle school graduation playlist)
    • Graduation (Friends Forever) by Vitamin C


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