UC Davis Grads Design New Mace to Be Used at Their Makeup Commencement

5 Commencements Dec. 9-12 Include 4 Makeup Ceremonies

Amir Ali holds the new mace over his shoulder
Amir Ali holds the new mace that he and Julie Xu designed as students. It will be used to represent the university at their makeup commencement Friday, Dec. 10, and other undergraduate ceremonies. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Editor’s note: To be admitted to cover a commencement, members of the media must make advance arrangements. They will also be required to follow these public health protocols: Take the UC Davis Daily Symptom Survey for visitors, provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within the 72 hours before the event, and wear a face covering.

Update Dec. 10: Since the story was published, more students have RSVP'd to attend the undergraduate ceremonies. New estimates are for a total of 1,673 for Friday's two makeup ceremonies and 988 at Saturday's 2021 commencement. With estimates for Graduate Studies (160) and the Graduate School of Management (85) ceremonies, the total for all five ceremonies is now 2,906. 

This week when UC Davis celebrates its first full, in-person commencements since the COVID-19 pandemic began, two recent graduates will be especially eager — and proud — to see the academic procession march in.

closeup of Julie Xu
Julie Xu

Amir Ali of Stockton, California, and Julie Xu of Temecula, California, will witness the marshal carrying a new mace the two graduates designed as students to represent the authority of the university and its undergraduate colleges.

“It’s an honor knowing it is going to be used for years to come,” Xu said. “I’ve made a mark.”

She and Ali will be among about 1,545 graduates attending one of two makeup undergraduate ceremonies for 2020 graduates at the University Credit Union Center (formerly The Pavilion) Friday (Dec. 10). The two will participate in the 3 p.m. ceremony; the other ceremony will be held at 10 a.m.

In other commencements:

  • Thursday, Dec. 9 — About 160 graduates will attend Graduate Studies’ 2020 makeup ceremony at 3 p.m.
  • Saturday, Dec. 11 — About 975 graduating students are expected at the 2021 fall undergraduate commencement at 10 a.m.
  • Sunday, Dec. 12 — About 85 graduates of the Graduate School of Management will participate in its 2020 ceremony at 1 p.m.

Design features of mace

The while orb and upper part of the mace
The orb and upper part of the mace. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

The mace has a luminous white orb of selenite that represents the university as a whole, four steel insets finished in a bronze patina and a tapered base of reclaimed Claro walnut from the Sacramento Valley.

The steel insets feature distinct patterns, created with three-dimensional printing, to represent the colleges: the DNA helix for Biological Sciences; topographical lines for Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; the hexagon for Engineering; and cross hatching, often used in grips, to symbolize the array of studies in Letters and Science, the largest of the four colleges.

Need grew from changes

Traditionally, UC Davis has held a fall undergraduate ceremony in December and about a dozen commencements in May and June. For the sake of public health, UC Davis held virtual commencement celebrations in spring 2020 and December 2020; in spring of this year, UC Davis held limited-scale commencements.

For spring 2020, the campus had been planning to consolidate the seven commencements of the four undergraduate colleges into three larger commencements for undergraduates. Each college had used its own mace, so in fall 2019, the campus turned to student talent to design a mace, sometimes called a scepter.

Xu, a double-major in design and economics, and Ali, a design major with an emphasis in industrial design, had worked together on other projects and teamed up for the competition.

Inspiration and refinement

A closeup shows details representing the four colleges
Patterns represent the colleges. Left to right: DNA helix for Biological Sciences, topographical lines for Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, hexagon for Engineering, and cross hatching for Letters and Science. (Courtesy)

“The first thing was, ‘What the hell is a scepter and what is it used for?’” Ali said.

He did his research. An academic scepter, or mace, was one of the earliest symbols of medieval university officials in the 14th century and, by the 15th century, had come to represent academic dignity. There are companies that create them, and Ali looked at what other universities used.

But Xu and Ali wanted something uniquely UC Davis, and Xu wanted to show a community coming together. “It was my inspiration about how people coming from different backgrounds come together into a whole,” said Xu, who drew the designs.

The original submission had symbols of a book, gear, tree and microscope on pillars painted purple, blue, green and orange; a glass or resin orb; and a wooden handle. Xu and Ali won the competition’s $500 prize, and the design went through some further reviews and refinements.

Making the mace

The prize included an additional $500 for materials to fabricate the mace using maker spaces on campus. When the pandemic closed many campus facilities, it also postponed the spring 2020 in-person commencements and provided extra time to create the mace. Even so, it was hard to find a fabricator in the pandemic until someone suggested Manual Labor of Oakland, California.

The mace was a first for the small design firm that specializes in architecture, design and fabrication. “We were sincerely honored to be chosen to produce the piece,” said Devin Farrell, one of the principals and a 2003 graduate of UC Santa Barbara.

Farrell said his team had a productive collaboration with Ali, who oversaw the fabrication, and complimented him for providing a fully realized three-dimensional model and fine renderings. The mace arrived on campus several weeks ago. 

More about commencements

The ceremonies will follow all university, county and state public health guidelines and fall under the guidance for indoor mega-events of 1,000 or more people. Admission to the Graduate School of Management ceremony is by invitation only; for all other commencements, tickets are required for guests over age 2. Ceremonies will be live-streamed and most will be available on demand after the event. More information is available on the commencement website.

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