Diplomas. Speeches. Mortarboards.
Mortarboards? What's the story there?
The mortarboard is generally believed by scholars to have developed from the biretta, a similar-looking hat worn by Roman Catholic clergy. The biretta itself may have been a development of the Roman pileus quadratus, a type of skullcap with superposed square and tump and is now known as the Bishop Andrewes cap. The mortarboard may also have been influenced by practices in Islamic madrassas. It was originally reserved for holders of master degrees (the highest qualification in mediæval academia), but was later adopted by bachelors and undergraduates. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries corner-cap (catercap in the Marprelate tracts) was the term used (OED).
Thank you, Wikipedia.
I still think they look silly.
As my teacher friend Bob said, "Look how smart I am: I wear upon my head the stupidest piece of apparel humanity has ever produced."