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: