Students at 2023 Commencement

SAIC’s Commencement Celebrates 158 Years of Change

It is the 158th year of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Commencement to celebrate another graduating class is fast-approaching. While many colleges and universities throughout the country will honor long-standing traditions in this event, SAIC students—in all their artistic spirit—honor the tradition of individuality and change. Many aspects of SAIC’s Commencent have evolved throughout the years, including regalia and location. Here, catch up on SAIC’s history and unique takes on Commencement as we prepare to celebrate the graduates of 2024.

A student in an orange graduation cap with a dragonfly brooch.

In SAIC’s early years, students wore regalia in scarlet and buff, the School’s official colors of that time. Today, unlike most colleges and universities, SAIC no longer requires graduating students to wear regalia to the ceremony. Instead students are encouraged to “dress as they feel appropriate”—an opportunity many use to showcase their personal designs, tastes, and humor. Some students still choose to wear caps and gowns, and walking the stage to receive a diploma becomes a runway for many.  

A wide view of Commencement at Wintrust Arena

Much like the changing regalia traditions, the location of Commencement has traveled around the city throughout the years. Wintrust Arena, home of Chicago’s WNBA team the Chicago Sky, has been the venue of choice since 2018. Past venues include the outdoor Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park; the Chicago Theater; Art Institute of Chicago’s Rubloff Auditorium; Chicago Symphony Orchestra Hall; and the Civic Opera House. In 1990, the event was held in the Medinah Temple, and many students wore Fez hats instead of caps.

President Elissa Tenny stands at the Commencement podium

Each Commencement begins with a faculty procession, and since 2015, the opening includes a 3D-printed mace made by SAIC’s own Instructional Resources & Facilities Management (IRFM) department. Carried by a high-ranking official of the School, the mace is a golden staff topped by a red, tilted cube. The procession is accompanied by live music from Mucca Pazza, a 30-something member, genre-bending marching band ensemble from Chicago that involves several SAIC alums. Their set features original music as well as the graduation staple “Pomp and Circumstance.”

A balloon drop at Commencement

This Year’s Ceremony
At the 2024 Commencement, more than 1,000 students will cross the Wintrust Arena stage to receive their Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees. The celebration will also include Commencement speaker and renowned photographer An-My Lê, who will receive an honorary doctorate alongside alums Sanford Biggers (MFA 1999) and Wu Tsang (BFA 2004).