Skip to Content

What Does Wearing Cords Mean At A Highschool Graduation?

If you have ever watched a loved one graduate (or have watched a TV episode where the characters graduate), then you may have noticed them or other classmates wearing multicolored rope cords over their robes.

But what do these cords mean? 

What Does Wearing Cords Mean At A Highschool Graduation?

These pieces of rope are called Honor cords, and they are given to the best and top students of the graduating class. 

The academic accomplishments of the graduates in particular fields (like math, science, etc), as well as the groups and organizations in which they participated (like their clubs and societies), determine the color of the cords that the student wears. 

Not every student will get the honor of wearing cords at their graduation, but there are a few different ways to get cords which gives more people the chance to be awarded them. 

Here is everything that you need to know about graduation cords, what each style and color means in the academic world, and what you need to do to be awarded these cords at graduation. 

What Types Of Cords Can You Get For A High School Graduation Ceremony?

Latin Honor Cords 

Latin honor cords are probably the ones that most people are familiar with, especially those who live outside the USA. In many high school movies, you will often see the smartest character graduate with one of the three Latin honor cords. 

These cords are given out at the end of high school graduation to pupils who have excelled academically. The Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, and Cum Laude are the three honor cords that are awarded during graduation. 

While getting these cords at graduation is a very high honor, there is one major benefit to getting these cords, except for making yourself and your family proud of course. If you are awarded any one of these three cords, you can say this on your resume. 

This will show future employers that you have graduated from high school with a very high GPA (grade point average), which will help your job prospects later on. 

These are the three different variations of the Latin graduation cords and what they mean:

Summa Cum Laude

The Summa Cum Laude is the greatest honor a student may achieve, and it demonstrates that they were one of the most academically accomplished students in their class throughout their school year.

The phrase “With the greatest honor” translates to “Summa Cum Laude” in Latin. 

To be eligible for this recognition, you need to have a grade point average (GPA) of 3.9, so you need to get at least an A grade in every class.

Magna Cum Laude 

To get the Magna Cum Laude distinction at your high school graduation, you need to have a grade point average of at least 3.75. This is the second highest degree of recognition that may be awarded. In Latin, this phrase translates to “With great honor”. 

Cum Laude

The Latin term “Cum Laude” translates to “with acclaim,” and students who have maintained a grade point average of 3.5 are awarded the Cum Laude accolade. 

It is the lowest of the three Latin cords, and having it on a student’s transcript suggests that they have earned a few Bs throughout their academic career. Despite this, it is still a commendable achievement that deserves to be celebrated.

How To Achieve Honor Roll Cords In High School

Keep in mind that not all students are awarded cords for their outstanding academic achievement.

Participation in extracurricular activities outside of the classroom, such as community service can also earn a student a cord in high school graduation. These are called Honor cords. 

Students are required to participate in a variety of community service activities for a set amount of hours in order to be eligible for honor cords.

The student council, the Tri-M Music Honor Society, and the National Latin Honor Society are just a few of the groups and societies that students can join to increase their chances of receiving honor cords. 

Cords of honor are typically adorned with tassels at one end, and their construction involves the twisting of strands of a variety of colors.

Some of the graduation cords have additional embellishments on them that signify the various organizations and societies that the graduate was a member of.

Here are some of the ways in which you may receive honor cords while you are in high school:

National Or Academics Honor Societies 

Like with the Latin cords, you need to demonstrate academic excellence to get honor cords.

If you want the highest possible marks, you need to adopt strategies such as participating in study groups and talking to your teachers by participating in classes. 

Joining one of the National Honor Societies, such as the Cum Laude Society or the National Spanish Honor Society, is another way to earn graduation cords.

Extracurricular Activities

Students who participate in extracurricular activities significantly increase their chances of receiving an honor cord at graduation.

The only thing you need to do is sign up for a few of the many clubs and societies that are offered at your school and a few of the other community service programs.


A high school graduation cord is something that may be earned via community service. Students who are enthusiastic about community service will benefit greatly from this approach to get cords. 

You will have to complete a set number of hours of community service or volunteering in order to qualify for cords this way. The hours that you need to work will be determined by the organization that you work for, so check with them and your school to see what you need. 

The Significance of Each Graduation Cord Color

What Does Wearing Cords Mean At A Highschool Graduation?

There is a rainbow of color options available for graduation cords, with each one symbolizing a different achievement that the student has been awarded during their time at school. 

Here is what each color represents:

Gold Cords 

At graduation ceremonies, the highest honor you can be given is being awarded gold cords at graduation.  

They are a mark of high honors and, most of the time, they show that the student was a member of the National Honor Society or that they have a high grade point average. 

Gold honor cords are typically presented to students who have distinguished themselves academically and deserve special recognition.

To get a gold chord, you need to have a grade point average of at least 3.9. If you are a member of The National Honor Society, you are eligible to get a gold cord as well.

Red Cords 

A graduate who wears a red a cord shows that they were a member of at least two different groups or organizations. 

Within the red cord there might be strands of other colors to show that the student was part of many varied groups and organizations. 

This cord is used by a variety of organizations, such as the American Student Government Association and the International Thespian Society.

Black Cords 

Students who have demonstrated outstanding leadership abilities are awarded black honor cords.

In most cases, they are used to show that a student has done well in corporate-level subjects like business, accounting, and economics.

The traditional appearance of the cord in black conveys qualities of power, authority, and status.

White/Purple Cords 

The National Technical Honor Society awards students who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in the fields of professional and technical education with white and purple honor cords. 

The National Science Honor Society requires its members to wear green and purple cords, whereas the Latin National Honor Society requires its members to wear purple and gold cords.

At the college level, students studying dentistry and law are most likely to be seen wearing purple cords. Additionally, it is used to symbolize graduates of architectural and urban planning programs. 

In college, the purple rope is used to recognize members of honor groups such as the National Honor Society and Kappa Delta Pi.

Hunter Green/Silver Cords 

The hunter-green and silver strands represent excellence in the corporate world.

Students who are majoring in the medical sciences are represented by the color silver or gray, which may also be used to indicate students majoring in physics, business management, or agriculture. 

Some schools use the wearing of this color as an indication of a student’s engagement in community service since it represents optimism, kindness, sensitivity, and elegance.

Blue Cords 

The use of royal blue cords is most common in the field of social sciences, including leadership studies and community service.

However, these cords may also be used to symbolize other fields of study. For philosophy graduates, the graduation cords are a dark navy blue color.

It is also used by organizations at universities such as Alpha Kappa Mu, ASGA, and Phi Kappa Pi. 

Maroon Cords 

Those who graduate with degrees in forestry and religion/theology degrees are generally presented with maroon cords. 

It is the official school color of a number of colleges and universities, including Boston College and the University of Chicago. 

In addition to this, they signify participation in prestigious honor organizations such as Alpha Sigma Lambda,  Omega Chi Epsilon, and Delta Epsilon Sigma. 

Orange Cords

Orange graduation cords are worn by engineering graduates as well as members of the Tau Beta Pi society. In addition, alumni of many homeschooling programs get a cord of the same color after they complete their studies. 

Orange is associated with an originality of thought and a strong sense of one’s own identity.

White Cords

Students who have completed the AIG (Academically and Intellectually Gifted) program and graduates of programs in the arts and humanities are both able to wear white graduation cords. 

Members of many honor organizations, such as the National Technical Honor Society and the French National Honor Society, are known to wear white cords that have been braided with different colors.

Both Sigma Theta Tau and Alpha Kappa Mu are recognized at the undergraduate level and wear white cords to signify their membership.

The color white is commonly seen as signifying enlightenment, cleanliness, and potential.

Forest Green Cords 

The color green is frequently chosen to highlight graduates with degrees in biology and general sciences. 

At the university level, the color cords of a forest green indicate graduates in the field of medicine, although in some schools those with a medical degree will sometimes wear silver cords. 

The color green is associated with new beginnings, expansion, and hope.

Turquoise Cords 

Graduates who have received degrees in public administration or in the performing arts traditionally wear graduation cords in a turquoise color.

In addition, at commencement ceremonies, members of student societies like Alpha Kappa Delta and Zeta Tau Alpha are known to wear turquoise cords. 

The color turquoise is often used to represent calmness, equilibrium, and vitality.

How Many Cords Can A Student Wear At Graduation? 

When you graduate from high school, you have the option of wearing multiple cords to represent your academic accomplishments, as cords for graduation can be earned in a number of different ways. 

If you do very well in school and earn a grade point average of 3.5 or more, you will be eligible to receive one of the three Latin cords: the Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, or Cum Laude chord.

As a member of academic honor society, such as the National English Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society, the Tri-M Music Honor Society, or the National Society of High School Scholars, you may also be eligible to earn honor cords.

Volunteering and providing services to the community is another way to earn some cords for graduation.

Students in high school have access to a wide variety of community programs, each of which has its own regulations on the required amount of hours of service that must be completed to be awarded an honor cord.

Do I Have To Buy The Cords For Graduation?

Latin cords are given out for free for academic excellence in the majority of high schools, and honor cords may also be given out by certain groups of pupils.

However, there are a few times when you will be responsible for purchasing the graduation cords on your own. 

You may get graduation cords in the colors that reflect your organization and academic achievements in school from a wide variety of third-party retailers and online vendors.

If you are not an authorized representative of a high school, several businesses will not sell to you though, so keep this in mind as you shop.

Frequently Asked Questions

Still looking for graduation cord answers? See if we have answered any of your extra questions below. 

Which Clubs At High School Give Out Graduation Cords?

The majority of honor organizations in high schools provide their members with graduation cords.

These clubs may include the National Honor Society (Gold), which recognizes academic achievement, the National Speech and Debate Association (Red and Grey), which recognizes public speaking, and the International Thespian Society (Red), which recognizes theatrical performance. 

Other clubs can include the Distributive Education Clubs of America, the National Eagle Scout Association, Rho Kappa (Blue and White) for social studies, the Japanese National Honor Society, or the National Eagle Scout Association.

You will find that high schools provide a variety of groups that you may join, although not all of them will provide you with an honor cord at graduation. If you really want to get a cord, make sure that you do your research on what each club can offer you. 

Make it a goal to meet the eligibility requirements of these clubs, which could include achieving a high grade point average and putting in the appropriate number of hours of community service.

What Does It Mean When The Graduation Cord Is Red, White, And Blue?

Graduates of the armed forces or members of patriotic groups, such as the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) and the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), are presented with white, red, and blue graduation cords, respectively. 

SALUTE National Honor Society members are also represented by a cord with these colors because of their membership in this society.

Can I Get Cords From My AP Classes? 

Because Advanced Placement programs are designed to help you graduate, the majority of institutions do not provide cords for AP subjects. 

Latin cords are awarded to graduating students at most high schools in the United States for having good grade point averages, and honor cords are awarded to students who have participated in extracurricular activities such as membership in groups.

However, some schools do grant Advanced Placement Scholars (AP Scholars) a silver or light blue graduation cord if students made a level 3 or above on three or more Advanced Placement examinations.

Whether this is allowed for you will be determined by the college board.

Because of this, you should contact your school counselor about the minimum requirements for club honor cords, including the required grade point average and the number of required hours of community service.


Students in high school and college are recognized for their dedication and hard work by being awarded with cords at their graduation. 

Students are able to wear cords in a variety of colors, each of which is used to represent their outstanding achievements in academic and extracurricular activities.

While you may find a bit of variation in what each cord color means throughout the country, almost all schools follow the above guidelines on what each color of cord represents.

Simon Lewis