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WU Commencement History

An overview of past speakers and honorary degree recipients at the commencement events of Washington University in St. Louis

Commencement Speakers, 1905-1939

Washington University admitted its first undergraduates in 1857 and awarded its first undergraduate degrees in 1862. The first commencement ceremony, held June 20, 1862, consisted of a public address by all five members of the graduating class, and an address to the graduating class by Chancellor William Chauvenet. Student addresses, usually in Latin or Greek, were the norm for commencement ceremonies at this time. The tradition of having every member of the class speak lasted until approximately 1880. From approximately 1881 until 1905, speeches were given by selected members of the class, with fewer of these speeches being given in Latin or Greek as time went on. Beginning in 1905, commencement took on the form similar to today's ceremony.

The first commencement ceremony on the Danforth (Hilltop) Campus took place in June 1905. The formal dedication of the Campus took place at the same ceremony.

Commencement speakers from 1905-1939 were:

  • June 15, 1905: David Rowland Francis
  • June 20, 1907: James Bryce
  • June 18, 1908: Rabbi Leon Harrison
  • June 8, 1911: Charles Nagel
  • June 13, 1912: Rev. Thomas Lamb Eliot
  • June 12, 1913: Paul Elmer More, Aspects of Reaction
  • June 11, 1914: Rev. William C. Bitting, Education and Daily Life
  • June 10, 1915: Rev. John Haynes Holmes
  • June 8, 1916: Bishop Daniel Sylvester Tuttle
  • June 14, 1917: Herbert Lockwood Willett, The University and the Nation
  • June 10, 1920: Walter Miller
  • June 8, 1922: Daniel John Cowling, The Place of Liberal Arts Ideals in American Education
  • June 14, 1923: James Augustin Emery, Educated Men and Public Affairs
  • June 12, 1924: Henry Smith Pritchett, Our Present Day Ideal of Civil Liberty
  • June 9, 1925: Robert Ernest Vinson, A Chapter of the Controversy
  • June 7, 1927: Charles Gates Dawes, The New Diplomacy
  • June 5, 1928: Rev. Christopher Rhodes Eliot, Adventures in Idealism
  • June 11, 1929: John Carleton Jones, The Reserves of the Educated Man
  • June 10, 1930: John Duncan Ernst Spaeth, Science and Humanism in University Education
  • June 9, 1931: Shailer Mathews, The Administration of Optimism
  • June 7, 1932: Rev. William Greenleaf Eliot, Jr., A Free University in a Free State
  • June 6, 1933: Charles Nagel, Robert S. Brookings
  • June 12, 1934: Percival Chubb, The Summons to a New Idealism
  • June 11, 1935: Guy Stanton Ford, Protecting an Investment
  • June 9, 1936: Otto Heller
  • June 8, 1937: Karl Morgan Block, College and Character
  • June 7, 1938: Martin Hill Ittner, The Function of Technology in Modern Society
  • June 6, 1939: Gordon Jennings Laing, A Liberal Education

Commencement Speakers, 1940-1990


The commencement speakers from 1940-1990 were:

  • June 11, 1940: Walter B. Cannon, Progress and Problems
  • June 2, 1942: Rev. John Macclian, Facing Tomorrow's World
  • May 27, 1943: Frank J. Bruno, The Price of Freedom
  • May 25, 1944: Frederick Arnold Middlebush, The Burning of the Books
  • June 13, 1946: Charles Allen Thomas, Crossroads
  • June 12, 1947: Reuben G. Gustavson, The Challenge of Civilization to Your Generation
  • June 8, 1948: Arthur Holly Compton, Education for Peace
  • June 7, 1949: Paul Gray Hoffman
  • June 6, 1950: Bernard M. Baruch
  • June 6, 1951: George C. Marshall
  • June 11, 1952: Karl T. Compton
  • 1953: Arthur Holly Compton
  • June 9, 1954: Charles Malik, The Ultimate Question
  • June 8, 1955: Ethan A.H. Shepley
  • June 6, 1956: Paul A. Freund
  • June 12, 1957: Raymond R. Tucker
  • June 11, 1958: Howard J. Morgens
  • June 10, 1959: Rev. Paul C. Reinert, S.J.
  • June 6, 1960: Elmer Ellis
  • June 5, 1961: George D. Stoddard
  • June 4, 1962: Carl Tolman, The Essence of the University
  • June 10, 1963: James S. McDonnell
  • June 8, 1964: Richard P. Wilbur
  • June 7, 1965: Sister Francetta Barberis
  • June 5, 1966: Merle Fainsod
  • June 4, 1967: Sol Myron Linowitz
  • June 2, 1968: Ruth Moore
  • June 9, 1969: J. George Harrar
  • June 1, 1970: William B. Pollard, Thomas H. Eliot, Charles Allen Thomas
  • June 4, 1971: Thomas H. Eliot
  • May 26, 1972: Barbara Ward (Lady Jackson)
  • May 25, 1973: Eli Goldston, For the Rich it Sings
  • May 19, 1974: DeWitt Stetton, Jr., The University and Its Professional Schools
  • May 23, 1975: Albert William Levi, The Uses of the Humanities
  • May 21, 1976: Clark M. Clifford, Our American System: Can it Withstand The Present Threats?
  • May 20, 1977: Carla Anderson Hills, The Quality of Life
  • May 19, 1978: John Jay McCloy
  • May 18, 1979: William H. Gass, Learning to Talk
  • May 16, 1980: Philip Handler, Science and the American Future
  • May 22, 1981: Edward T. Foote II, The Pursuit of Happiness, 1981
  • May 21, 1982: Andrew F. Brimmer, The Erosion of Equity in American Society
  • May 20, 1983: John Harold Plumb, A Time for Hope?
  • May 18, 1984: Bob Hope
  • May 17, 1985: Philip Habib, Jeremy Fostaker
  • May 16, 1986: Sen. Paul Simon
  • May 15, 1987: William G. Hyland
  • May 20, 1988: Thomas F. Eagleton
  • May 1, 1989: Henry E. Hampton
  • May 18, 1990: Mona Van Duyn, The Imagination: Commencement or Conclusion

Commencement speakers, 1991-present


The commencement speakers from 1991-present were:

  • May 17, 1991: Oscar Arias Sanchez
  • May 15, 1992: Marian Wright Edelman, The Measure of Our Success
  • May 14, 1993: Peter H. Raven, Attitudes and Alliances: Shared Dependencies and Responsibilities for the Environment
  • May 20, 1994: Senator Bill Bradley, America's Changing World: New Economy, New Diversity, New Challenges
  • May 19, 1995: Sen. John C. Danforth
  • May 17, 1996: Jane Alexander
  • May 16, 1997: Sir Geoffrey Winston Russell Palmer
  • May 15, 1998: George Will
  • May 15, 1999: William H. Danforth
  • May 19, 2000: Julian Bond
  • May 18, 2001: Rita R. Colwell
  • May 10, 2002: Ruth J. Simmons
  • May 16, 2003: Madeline Albright
  • May 21, 2004: Thomas L. Friedman
  • May 20, 2005: Richard A. Gephardt
  • May 19, 2006: Sir John Major
  • May 18, 2007: Tim Russert
  • May 16, 2008: Chris Matthews
  • May 15, 2009: Wendy Kopp
  • May 21, 2010: Dr. Stephen Chu
  • May 20, 2011: Elie Wiesel, Memory and Ethics
  • May 18, 2012: Mike Peters
  • May 17, 2013: Cory A. Booker
  • May 16, 2014: Tony La Russa
  • May 15, 2015: Ken Burns