Every year, aides retrieve from storage the flowing gown the president wears at Commencement and send it out to be dry cleaned, pressed, and inspected for rips and blemishes. At about the same time, these aides descend into the basement of University Hall to unlock a giant vault that stores reams of official University documents going back to the 1700s. The vault also holds the golden chain and pendant that Brown's president wears at Commencement. Only after it is polished and checked for damage is it declared ready to be worn on graduation day. ‚Ä¢Brown is often thought of as a place of experimentation and change, an incubator of the new, but that's only half the story. The University is also defined by its centuries-old traditions, and few things symbolize those as much as the president's regalia—although even that has not been as unchanging as you might think.

Photos by Erik Gould.