Commencement Programs, University Records
Title: Commencement Programs,
Creator: University of
boxes (8 linear ft.)
Collection Number: RG
Copyright: To inquire about usage, please contact Archives & Special Collections, University of
Nebraska–Lincoln Libraries. For more information see the Use Guidelines
Preferred Citation: Commencement Programs, University Records (RG 00-05-00), University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Libraries, Archives & Special Collections.
The University of Nebraska held its first commencement ceremony on Wednesday, June 26, 1872,
at University Hall. Although there were no graduates to participate in the exercises, an
honorary Doctorate of Laws was presented to the Right Reverend Bishop Clarkson of Omaha. In
1873, the first students, William H. Shell and James Stuart Dales, graduated from the
University. This commencement is considered the first official one for the tabulation of annual
ceremonies. The 1876 commencement included Alice M. Frost, the first female student to graduate
from the University.
Although graduating classes were small during the University's early years, commencement soon
became a highly anticipated social event for the citizens of the state. By the end of the 1870s,
commencement had grown from a one-day event into a week of social activities closely followed by
local newspapers and widely attended by the public. Commencement week traditionally began with a
Sunday baccalaureate ceremony followed by musical programs, theatrical productions, alumni
activities, review of military candidates, and numerous receptions and balls. The week
culminated with the commencement ceremony itself, which included a formal procession of faculty,
students and dignitaries; a commencement oration, military commissioning of officer candidates;
the conferral of degrees; and the presentation of awards and honors.
Over the years, commencement exercises have been held at various locations throughout the
campus and city including the Opera House at 12th & "O" (1877-1892), Lansing Theater
(1893-1898), Lincoln Auditorium (1900-1911), St. Paul's Methodist Church (1912-1926), University
Coliseum (1926-1963), Pershing Auditorium (1964-1975) and the Devaney Center (1976 to present).
Notable commencement speakers in the University's history include Booker T. Washington
(1902), William Jennings Bryan (1905), Roscoe Pound (1917), John J. Pershing (1921), Phyllis
Bentley (1934), Norman Cousins (1950), Trygve Halvdan (1952), Gerald Ford (1976), Harry A.
Blackmun (1983), and Barbara Jordan (1995).
One of the University's most memorable commencements was in held in June of 1917 in
conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Nebraska statehood. Among the legendary figures who
received honorary degrees were Theodore Roosevelt, Willa Cather, Roscoe Pound, John Neihardt,
Edith Abbott, and John J. Pershing (in absentia). Pershing had been scheduled to give the
commencement speech. With the United States entry into World War I two months earlier, the
general was called upon to serve as Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces. The annual
address was given instead by Roscoe Pound and following the ceremony, university officials
traveled by train to Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they conducted a special war
commencement, awarding 33 degrees to students enrolled in the Reserve Officer's Corps who were
already leading the war effort.
Scope and Content:
The Commencement records include a wide variety of materials such as programs, addresses or
speeches made at commencement, calendars, invitations, procession instructions, commencement
orations, biographical material, photographs, newspaper clippings, and videos that document
commencement activities at the University of Nebraska from 1872 to the present. All files are
arranged chronologically by year.
The bulk of the collection is comprised of programs published for distribution at the
University's Annual, Midwinter and Summer graduation ceremonies. The programs outline the order
of events for the commencement exercises and list the names of graduates, honorary degree
recipients, newly commissioned Reserve Officer Training Corps (R.O.T.C.) officers; and award
winners. Programs for the university-wide annual spring commencement exercises are complete for
the years 1872 to the present. Some programs for convocation exercises held by the Graduate
College and the Colleges of Agriculture and Medicine and Law are included in the collection, as
well. The collection also includes cumulated lists of commencement speakers, and the original
corrected proofs, as well as bound published copies of some of their orations.
Related materials held in the collection include formal commencement invitations,
commencement week schedules, baccalaureate service programs, and programs from the School of
Music's annual commencement concerts. Also included are biographical information on award
winners and honorary degree recipients, typed instructions for commencement procession
officials, photographs of the procession and ceremony participants, video recordings and other
related commencement materials.
Items of particular interest in the collection include elaborately bound and decorated
commencement invitations, numerous black and white photographic images of the annual
commencement procession, ceremony, university officials; and honored guests. Newspaper clippings
provide extensive commentary in some cases on notable orations, baccalaureate sermons, music
programs, class plays, alumni activities and honored guests associated with the university's
commencements over the years.
Washington, Booker T., 1856-1915
Bryan, William Jennings, 1860-1925
Pound, Roscoe, 1870-1964
Pershing, John J. (John Joseph), 1860-1948
Bentley, Phyllis Eleanor, 1894-
Blackmun, Harry A. (Harry Andrew), 1908-1999
Jordan, Barbara, 1936-1996
Ford, Gerald R., 1913-
University of Nebraska--Lincoln
Container List: Please contact the Archives & Special Collections for a container list or for more
information on this collection.