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Commencement Programs, University Records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: RG-00-05-00

Scope and Contents

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 video recordings 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 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, biographical information on award winners and honorary degree recipients, typed instructions for commencement procession officials, photographs of the procession and ceremony participants, newspaper clippings, video recordings and other materials pertaining to commencement activities at the University of Nebraska.

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 included in the collection provide extensive commentary in some cases on notable orations, baccalaureate sermons, music programs, class plays, alumni activities and honored guest associated with the university's commencements over the years.

The commencement program for the years 1989-2018 may include both an original program with corrected copies, may include only corrected copies, or may include the original program without any corrections.


  • 1873-2022


Historical Background

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.


8 Linear Feet (22 boxes)

Language of Materials


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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Archives & Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries Repository

Archives & Special Collections
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries
P.O. Box 884100
Lincoln NE 68588-4100 United States