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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, news 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 published programs outline the order of events 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. There are some programs for the Graduate College, the Colleges of Agriculture and Medicine, and Law. The records include cumulated lists of commencement speakers.

Related materials include formal commencement invitations, commencement week schedules, baccalaureate service programs, and programs from the School of Music commencement concerts, biographical information on award winners and honorary degree recipients, typed instructions for commencement procession officials, photographs of the procession and ceremony participants, news 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 photographs of processions, university officials, and guests. News clippings provide details on speakers, baccalaureate sermons, music programs, class plays, alumni activities, and guests associated with the commencements over the years.

The commencement programs for the years 1989-2018 may include both an original program and programs with corrections relating to graduate lists.


  • Creation: 1873-2023


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 William H. Shell and James Stuart Dales graduated from the University. The 1873 commencement is considered the first official one for the tabulation of annual ceremonies. The 1876 commencement included Alice M. Frost, the first woman to graduate from the University.

By the end of the 1870s, commencement activities grew from a one-day event into a week of social activities closely followed by local newspapers and widely attended by the public. Commencement week began with a Sunday baccalaureate ceremony followed by musical programs, theatrical productions, alumni activities, a military candidates review, and numerous receptions and balls. The week culminated with the commencement ceremony itself, which included a formal procession of faculty, students, and dignitaries, an address or speech, commissions of military officer candidates, the conferral of degrees, and presentation of awards and honors.

The Lincoln Opera House at 12th & "O" (1877-1892), the Lansing Theater (1893-1898), the Lincoln Auditorium (1900-1911), St. Paul's Methodist Church (1912-1926), the University Coliseum (1926-1963), Pershing Auditorium (1964-1975) and the Devaney Center (1976 to present) served as locations for commencement ceremonies.

The June 1917 commencement aligned with the 50th anniversary of Nebraska statehood. Theodore Roosevelt, Willa Cather, Roscoe Pound, John Neihardt, Edith Abbott, and John J. Pershing (in absentia) received honorary degrees. Due to the United States entry into World War I, Pershing began his command of the United States Expeditionary Forces and did not give the commencement speech as intended. Roscoe Pound gave the speech instead. Following the ceremony, university officials traveled by train to Fort Snelling, St. Paul, Minnesota, where they awarded 33 degrees to students enrolled in the Reserve Officer's Corps who were already leading the war effort.

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).


8 Linear Feet (22 boxes)

Language of Materials


Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

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