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Commencement Collection

Identifier: WUA-01-wua00221

The collection includes Washington University commencement programs from 1856 to present.

Folders are organized by year, in chronological order.  Material types are listed, followed by the date of the event(s).  Commencement programs and other items refer to University-wide events, unless otherwise noted as a specific school or department.  Materials vary in the level of information for each year.

For some years in the 20th century, supplemental information from the student newspaper, Student Life, has also been included.

Early commencement programs do not include a list of graduates or honorees.  For graduates name’s between 1862 – 1917 consult the Washington University General Alumni Catalogue, published in 1917.  Years without graduates names are noted as: [no graduate list].

Select parts of Series 1 have been digitized and are available here: (under Commencement History).


  • 1856-2019


Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions to access for Series 01, Series 02, or Series 04. Access to materials in Series 03 varies based on format of recording.

Conditions Governing Use

Users of the collection must read and agree to abide by the rules and procedures set forth in the Materials Use Policies.

Providing access to materials does not constitute permission to publish or otherwise authorize use. All publication not covered by fair use or other exceptions is restricted to those who have permission of the copyright holder, which may or may not be Washington University.

If you wish to publish or license Special Collections materials, please contact Special Collections to inquire about copyright status at (314) 935-5495 or (Publish means quotation in whole or in part in seminar or term papers, theses or dissertations, journal articles, monographs, books, digital forms, photographs, images, dramatic presentations, transcriptions, or any other form prepared for a limited or general public.)


17.00 linear feet

Historical Information

In 1859 and 1860 “Closing Exercises” were held at year’s end for the first class of Washington University students. The first graduation ceremony was the class of 1862, and graduation customs and locations have changed numerous times since that time.

Early 20th century traditions of graduation included: planting a class tree, reading a class history and poem, and a “Senior Pilgrimage” during commencement week. In this event Seniors, wearing cap and gown, followed by underclassman, visited each major building on campus to give a tribute and remembrance. (For further details, consult the Washington University Record Volume 5, Number 2, February 1910.)  From 1904 until 1914 graduation ceremonies were held in a large tent on the quadrangle. In 1915 the ceremonies move into the gymnasium.

Method of Acquisition

Compiled by University Archives staff. Bulk of materials in Series 02 and 03 transferred to archives in 2009 and 2010. Bulk of material in Series 04 transferred in 2011.

Accruals and Additions

Accruals are interfiled.

Processing Information

Processed by Leela Pandey, June 2005. Updated by Rachel Newborn and Taryn Williams April 2008. Updated by Miranda Rectenwald in June 2009. Updated and created series divisions, Samantha Halstead, February, 2010. Updated by Hadley Davis in November 2010 and Miranda Rectenwald in April 2011. Updated by Elizabeth Reecht in October 2012. Updated by Torry O'Connor in June 2013. Updated by Sarah Schnuriger in July and October 2016, March and December 2017, January 2019, and January 2020.

Commencement Collection
Description rules
Language of description

Revision Statements

  • 2020 December 17: Resource record updated in ArchiveSpace by Sarah Schnuriger.

Collecting Area Details

Part of the University Archives Collecting Area

Sonya Rooney
Olin Library, 1 Brookings Drive
MSC 1061-141-B
St. Louis MO 63130 US
(314) 935-5495