Getting your message across at commencement

[Yomagaocho] is graduation from Northwestern University on June 18th (wow that’s late in the year… they must be on quarters). He decided to spice up his mortarboard for the commencement ceremony. A normal message wasn’t good enough, and even a solar-powered diorama wasn’t going to suit him. Instead he added 256 addressable LEDs to the top so that he can get his message across without being limited to a couple of words. See it demonstrated after the break.

He was nice enough to give us the technical details. The matrix is a 16×16 grid mounted in some laser-cut black acrylic. We immediately wondered about the display working in sunlight (a June graduation will probably be outside). He didn’t use any current limiting resistors with the LEDs, dangerous to the longevity but this should provide maximum brightness. It’s certainly a geeky concept, but having the ribbon cable that controls it trailing down into your robe might make those graduation photos a bit embarrassing a few years down the road.


  1. tehgringe says:

    [Yomagaocho] is graduation
    [Yomagaocho] graduates
    [Yomagaocho] is graduating

    Neat idea.

  2. mess_maker says:

    Fun Project :)

  3. Oh man! And I thought my 4×4 graduation hat was cool…

  4. haineux says:

    Note to other grads: This guy’s employment opportunities just improved.

  5. Victor says:

    Oh wow… reading this I wanted to do the same, so I went looking for a cheap grad hat on ebay. and guess what I found…

    “30 Second Ad Space on Graduation Cap – LED Display!”

    The same guy is SELLING ad space on his hat.

  6. samuel says:

    Victor, he mentions that in the video.

  7. charper says:

    @Victor, yeah – he said that at the end of the video.

    Smart man.

  8. jaded says:

    Decorating your mortarboard is for high school girls. Seriously, it does not befit a college commencement.

    Clever idea, but perhaps he should have done it a few grades ago.

    Of course, if you could get the entire Electrical Engineering cadre to wear synchronized mortar boards at least you’d be part of a group, and that’s not as bad.

    • Tao lee says:

      Thats totally rediculous. You only graduate ONCE so why not make it a memorable event? Quit being such an old fuddy-duddy. If there were any IMPORTANT people (obviously not you) in the crowd that were looking to hire an innovator, this man would certainly be offered a good paying job…so, what is wrong with that?

  9. Kirby says:

    This guy is obviously creative,
    But here in Britain the mortarboard and graduate robes are reserved for doctorates, Am I to believe in the States undergrads and even high-school students get the honor.

    @Jaded I agree that decorating is very tacky.

  10. windsweptfungus says:

    In my town in oklahoma the 8th graders get caps and gowns when the graduate and go to high school. Of course we also have 7th graders driving to school so maybe getting into high school means more out here.

  11. Gregg says:

    If I had one I would def put the HaD (classic) logo across it

  12. Rachel says:

    I’m trying to build something very similar. The part with the transistors seems odd though. If there are only 16 transistors, it means 16 of the microcontroller pins are sinking the full current of the digit. I know uCs can sink a bit more current than they can source, but this almost defeats the purpose of the transistors.

    Also, he seems to have his anodes and cathodes mixed up.

  13. Snowy says:

    Ugggh. How unbelieveably tacky. A graduation is a time for decorum and formality for all involved, not to be remembered for some ubergeek that turned up with flashing leds on his mortarboard. It’s completely and utterly tasteless. Unless there are kitsch-loving job agents and employers present at the ceremony (and it is a ceremony, not an advertising opprtunity) then I don’t see how his employment prospects improve at all.

    • Tao lee says:

      You’re just jealous because you didn’t think of it first. Steve Jobs didn’t become a rich man by playing by the rules and staying in the box. Think about that you poor penniless soul. :)

  14. Drake says:


    Unless someone decides to publish an article on it …

  15. cannonface says:

    Uni/college is for dumbies to spend their parents money, waste 5-6 years more from their life for nothing to result a completely useless “technical professional” with baccelor degree who knows nothing about nothing.

    How sad I wasted 3 years from my life as well :(

    • Tao lee says:

      You’re kidding, right? You like working for minimum wage slaving over a hot grill, flipping burgers all your life or would you rather be the boss of the restaurants (<-yes, plural) sitting in a comfy air conditioned office making bank while apparently doing absolutely nothing? Hmm…not a hard decision. BUT first you need that degree. Doesn't matter if you get it in underwater basket weaving so long as you have a degree. If you don't think it was a good investment its because you took the mickey mouse classes that don't apply to anything. For example, I had to take a course on Power point. Useless so far. I would have preferred a course in Excel which has helped in: 1. Statistics 2. Calculus 3. ACCOUNTING <-real big on that. Not to mention others that help to understand how Government REALLY works and not be a brainwashed, mindless, 'OCCUPY' fool. Next time, try to stay awake in class and don't go there just to party at the frat house.

  16. D_ says:

    Wow hardware hackers concerned about decorum. :)

  17. James says:

    @D_ Haha! That’s exactly what I was thinking too!

    I didn’t know hackers are so serious/uptight.

    True, his LEDs might annoy/tick off some people, but I think the majority will find it cool and amusing.

    Good job kiddo!

  18. J. Peterson says:

    He didn’t use any current limiting resistors with the LEDs, dangerous to the longevity…

    Actually, this isn’t true. Since the LEDs are in a matrix, they’re being scanned, and thus the duty cycle of any individual LED is 1/16, at most. With a duty cycle this low, there’s little chance that a standard current source (i.e., batteries) is going to fry the LEDs.

  19. strider_mt2k says:

    I know all the top corporate CEOs put “what I put on my school mortarboard” down as the thing that most greatly influenced their ability to succeed in the real world.

    Seriously, let ‘em have some fun because it’s time to get down to some real world work real real soon.

    If they show some true creativity that makes them stand out from the crowd that is far far FAR from a bad thing.

    Go, grow, dance, and LIVE!!

  20. Bob says:

    Kirby: I don’t know where you get that idea. Most UK unis have graduation ceremonies for undergrads where they wear mortarboard and robes. I wore one for my BSc.

  21. jh says:

    yes… even pre-K grads get the cap/gown treatment too. Though this is newer (last 20 years), I still think it should be reserved for the major points (High school, undergrad, graduate).

  22. phil says:

    my dog even got a mortarboard when he graduated obedience school

  23. Icarus says:

    I just hope he’s not going to throw it in the air when they take his picture

  24. Hirudinea says:

    Boy its sure going to suck when he throws it up in the air and it hits the ground and breaks.

  25. Itwork4me says:

    Ribbon cables are meant to be shrink wrapped. Anyone with hairspray and this hat may be the next burn center victim. Cool? Yes. But as stated above it’s cooler to wear your achievement amongst others. Why do YOU need to stand out?

  26. djrussell says:

    so many people here are too stuffy. let him have his fun. he worked hard for years. this is his moment to be recognized.

    i put a “class of 2005″ sticker on mine that i got in freshman year. i was really happy not to have to stay an extra year or two.

  27. HE needs to stand out because of the freaking awesome hat he made.

    You’re my hero Yomagaocho.

  28. Chris says:

    E-Ink would have been better.

  29. cantido says:


    yes, because driving a bunch of LEDs is insanely difficult.

  30. Peter says:

    “Ugggh. How unbelieveably tacky. A graduation is a time for decorum and formality for all involved, not to be remembered for some ubergeek that turned up with flashing leds on his mortarboard. It’s completely and utterly tasteless”

    You must have gone to a different College than I did… my crowd would have loved this.

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