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Commencement Programs, University Records

Title: Commencement Programs, University Records

Collector: University Archives

Creator: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Dates: 1873-2004

Quantity: 15 boxes (8 linear ft.)

Collection Number: RG 00-05-00

Language: English

Restrictions: None

Access and Use: For information on access or copyright, please see our guidelines or email archives@unl.edu.

Historical Records Statement: Please see our statement on historical records and materials.

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-

Cousins, Norman

Blackmun, Harry A. (Harry Andrew), 1908-1999

Jordan, Barbara, 1936-1996

Ford, Gerald R., 1913-

Baccalaureate addresses

University of Nebraska--Lincoln

Container List: Please contact the Archives & Special Collections for a container list or for more information on this collection.

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