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WashU Commencement History

An overview of past speakers and honorary degree recipients at the commencement events of Washington University in St. Louis (Missouri, USA)

Contact Archive Staff

contact special collections

Archive, Manuscript & Rare Book collections are accessed in Olin Library at the Special Collections reading room.

HOURS:  Monday - Friday 9:00-5:00 by appointment

LOCATION:  Olin Library, 1st floor, Danforth Campus


*collections stored offsite require advance notice for retrieval and use

Questions about a specific topic? Contact:

University Archives: Sonya Rooney

Rare Books: Cassie Brand

Manuscript: Joel Minor 

Local History: Miranda Rectenwald

Dowd Illustration Research Archive: interim curator

Film & Media Archive: Andy Uhrich

Commencment at WashU

A brief overview of Commencement at Washington University in St. Louis

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 Vol. 5, No. 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.  As of 2015 the event is held on the main quadrangle of campus.

Commencment Over the Years

Commencement circa1910

Commencement 1908

Commencement 1906

Class of 1896