Penn State to celebrate graduates' academic, military success with honor cords

March 28, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State will for the first time recognize graduating students for their academic achievement or military service with honor cords at spring 2016 commencement ceremonies. The academic honor cords and military cords will be provided to eligible students to wear over their graduation gowns during the May 6-8 ceremonies University-wide.

“An honor cord provides an outward sign to everyone in attendance that these particular students have excelled in the classroom or have served or are serving our nation with pride,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “I think the addition of honor cords to our commencement ceremonies is a fitting tribute to the dedication and commitment our students have shown during their academic careers at Penn State. It’s a wonderful symbol of our best, and I am excited that this will be the first class to wear this well-deserved recognition.”

Academic honor cords

Led by the Office of Undergraduate Education, the academic honor cord initiative will recognize the top 12 percent of baccalaureate degree candidates in each college and at every campus, including associate degree recipients, which is the equivalent of approximately 1,900 students who annually graduate with academic honors.

Students who have earned Highest Distinction will receive a blue and white cord; those who have attained High Distinction will receive a blue cord; and those who have earned Distinction will receive a white cord.

The levels were determined by a student’s cumulative GPA at the end of the fall 2015 semester. If students earn a higher level once final grades are received, they can contact their campus or college to retroactively receive the appropriate honor cord.

Students will receive notification on how to receive their honor cords from their college or campus. Questions regarding academic honor cords should be directed to the student’s college or campus Undergraduate Education Office.

Military honor cords

Undergraduate and graduate students who have honorably served, are serving, or are commissioned to serve in the U.S. military will be awarded an honor cord to wear at their commencement ceremony in recognition of their duty and sacrifice. The red, white and blue cords will be given to eligible graduating students, including associate degree recipients, in the following groups: active duty, reserve and National Guard service members; veterans; and graduates receiving a commission through Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and official U.S. Armed Forces recruiting programs. Penn State faculty members who meet the eligibility criteria also may receive a military honor cord.

Students who have already been granted priority registration status are automatically eligible for an honor cord in the semester that they are graduating and may collect the cord at the Office of Veterans Programs at 325 Boucke Building during normal business hours. ROTC students may pick up their honor cord from their ROTC representative or office. Those veterans or active duty students who have not been granted priority registration can visit the Educational Equity website for instructions on required proof of service and where to submit the required documentation.

Students attending Penn State campuses can pick up their honor cord from their campus VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) certifying official. Eligible World Campus students will receive their cord in the mail by April 29.

Questions should be directed to the Office of Veterans Programs by phone at 814-863-0465 or email at  

The initiative was developed by Penn State World Campus and supported by leaders across the University. The Penn State Alumni Association has provided funding for the military honor cords.

“These students have worked tremendously hard throughout their careers at Penn State, and the honor cord is a visible symbol of their leadership, strong work ethic and commitment to excellence, which reflects the principles on which Penn State was founded,” said Yvonne Gaudelius, assistant vice president and senior associate dean of Undergraduate Education. “We are extremely proud of what they have accomplished.”

Approval for academic distinction and military honor cords was granted by the President’s Council in early 2016.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 12, 2021