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The symbols on the banners are modeled after the guild signs of medieval Europe. In order to identify themselves easily, the guilds adopted a simple picture, usually the guild's product or a tool of its trade, as their sign. An open book symbolizes intellectual pursuits in the arts, humanities, and history. A flask represents studies in the sciences, while a gear wheel is the symbol for engineering. An abacus indicates the financial orientation of business, and the scales of justice represent law.
The background colors of the banners are in accordance with traditional academic heraldry: white for arts and sciences; yellow for science; orange for engineering; brown for business, and purple for law.
The red and white university banner contains the letters IHS and three nails. IHS is a monogram representing the Greek letters iota, eta, sigma, which are the first three letters of the Greek name for Jesus, and part of the traditional symbol of the Society of Jesus and part of the University's official seal.
Inauguration attendees from other universities or colleges proceed into the event in order of their institution's founding-which often means that representatives of Harvard, founded in 1636, enter first.