Illustration by Gauraang Biyani

To the Class of 2017: Be Your Golden Tassel

Why the tassel changes our thoughts from the experiences of our graduating community members to the GPAs that they don on their heads.

Graduation is approaching the Class of 2017 at full speed and, with it, many moments and decisions that will affect us as individuals and as a class. Commencement is an event that celebrates us along with our family and friends. One of the ways in which NYU acknowledges its graduates is by presenting the Founders’ Day Award to students that graduate with a GPA higher than 3.5. This award is supposed to recognize hard work and academic achievement. Being a part of NYU, our campus also presents this award, which consists of receiving a certificate, a letter from NYU leadership and a golden tassel that is supposed to be worn during the commencement ceremony.
While wearing the tassel makes students with high academic achievement stand out in Yankee Stadium, where the All-University Commencement Exercises will take place, we believe that wearing the golden tassel does something very different at NYU Abu Dhabi. Instead of highlighting the academic success of a few, it highlights those who did not get a GPA above 3.5.
For those of us who have attended commencement in the past, we have all heard comments like — But she was an arts major, how could she not get a 3.5? Or, Wow, an Ivy League School must be so easy to get into if they accept GPAs below 3.5!
These comments perpetuate the hierarchization of individuals based on their GPAs and train underclassmen to think along those same lines. Instead of thinking about the experiences of our graduating community members, we find ourselves concerned with the GPAs that they don on their heads.
According to the Office of the Registrar, 118 out of 169 of the graduating class of 2017 will receive a golden tassel: that is a whopping majority of 70 percent. If 70 percent of the caps will have a golden tassel, the ones standing out will be the purple tassels, not the golden ones. Why would we want to create this hierarchy? Having a majority of our graduation class wear the golden tassel will alienate those who did not receive it.
We think the award itself is a great way to recognize achievement. However, what we want to question is the tassel and its effect on us as a class. On the one hand, the award is recognized through the certificate and the letter. These can remain with the student forever, acknowledging the respective student’s academic standing. On the other hand, the tassel seems to be a mere marker of hierarchy between students — a hierarchy we refuse to validate and perpetuate. In essence, wearing the tassel at NYUAD defeats the purpose of acknowledging students who have maintained a certain academic standing, as it truly just highlights those who have not. What we are arguing is that abstaining from wearing the golden tassel does nothing to the award and recognition itself. It is not being taken away. Wearing the tassel, however, could have a negative impact on those who are not wearing it — considering the overwhelming majority of students who have received a GPA above 3.5.
We invite our graduating classmates to reflect on what kind of statement we would be making as a class if we were to not wear the golden tassel. The golden tassel is supposed to award students for their hard work over their four years at NYUAD. However, is it really the case that students with a GPA below 3.5 did not work hard? It is widely known that there is grade variation across departments. We believe it is unfair to compare each other based on a number that is unjustly standardized across departments.
To our dear classmates: we are calling for a bottom-up initiative, one that disrespects hierarchies, critically questions traditions and stands in solidarity with every graduating friend that has hustled in their own way these past four years. We are asking for each one of you to reconsider the meaning of the tassel and its effects on our upcoming commencement. To wear the accessory is a personal choice, and we hope that you rethink it.
Rend Beiruti and Natalia Cruz Monjaraz are contributing writers. Email them at
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