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Graduation Cords: Decoding the Colors and Celebrating Your Teen’s Achievements

Graduation day is approaching, and as the parent of a teen who is graduating high school, you deserve to feel incredibly proud. You’ve balanced years of diaper changes, school drop-offs, homework help, and everything in between – that’s worth celebrating! Your teen has shown remarkable dedication, and those colorful ropes you may see draped across their shoulders as they walk across the stage (known as graduation cords) are a way to outwardly recognize those accomplishments. But what do all those different colors mean? It varies widely depending on your school, but let’s break it down.

Common Graduation Cord Meanings

Graduation cords are often awarded for academic achievements.

  • Academic Honors: Gold cords often signify outstanding academic achievement. Schools might have different names for the specific levels of honors:
    • Cum Laude: Latin for “with honors” (typically a minimum GPA of 3.5)
    • Magna Cum Laude: Latin for “with great honors” (higher GPA than cum laude)
    • Summa Cum Laude: Latin for “with highest honors” (highest GPA level)
  • Subject-Specific Achievements:
    • Science: Often blue
    • Math: Green
    • English: Red
    • Social Studies: Orange
    • Art: Brown
    • Music: Pink
    • Foreign Language: Varies, check with your school!
  • National Honor Societies: These are like exclusive clubs for academic superstars. The National Honor Society is a big one, and their cords are often blue and gold.

Other Cord Types and Meanings

Schools also recognize that accomplishments extend beyond GPA. Students may be recognized for involvement in other areas, such as:

  • Club and Organization Involvement:  Did your teen rock student government, lead a debate team, or star in the school play? There might be a special cord to show off that dedication – for example red for student government.
  • Community Service: Lots of schools honor students who give back to their community. Look for cords that represent the many hours spent volunteering. This cord is often silver and symbolizes hope and kindness.
  • Leadership: Black cords often designate excellent leadership skills.
  • Faculty awards: Some schools allow faculty members to nominate students for various accomplishments, academic or otherwise.
  • Military Service: If your teen is in a junior ROTC program or even enlisted, their school may have cords to showcase their commitment.
  • Unique Cords: Some schools recognize other achievements, such as leadership, a student’s journey overcoming adversity, or service to a particular cause.
  • Combinations: Students might wear multiple cords showcasing their involvement in various areas.

Don’t Forget: Your School is Unique!

Schools get to make their own rules about graduation cords, so double-check with a teacher or counselor about the exact meanings in your district.

Where to Get Cords

Typically, schools will handle the ordering of graduation cords for eligible students. They might also provide information on approved vendors for purchasing additional cords.

What About College Graduation Cords?

College graduates are also honored by wearing cords to demonstrate their accomplishments and areas of study. But there are a few differences from their high school counterparts. Colleges have different systems and thresholds for designating academic honors. They may also have designated cord colors for each major. Lastly, masters and doctoral degrees may have specific hood colors, which are different from cords.

Beyond the Colors

As your teen walks across that stage, remember all the moments that led to this success. Whether they receive cords or not, their journey is uniquely theirs. Those cords are a symbol of specific achievements, but be proud of them regardless. Celebrate their hard work, determination, and the growth you’ve witnessed.

Cord Color Typical Meaning
Gold High Academic Honors (Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, etc.)
Blue Science
Green Mathematics
Red English / Student Government
Orange Social Studies
Brown Art
Pink Music
Blue/Gold National Honor Society
Silver Community Service
Black Leadership


Liza is a veterinarian with five years experience in clinical practice and a passion for writing and editing. She is a graduate from MSU College of Veterinary Medicine.