History of Commencement

Commencement Programs
From 1895-Present

Storrs Agricultural School (1881-1893)
Storrs Agricultural College (1893-1899)
Connecticut Agricultural College (1899-1933)
Connecticut State College (1933-1939)
The University of Connecticut

Storrs Agricultural College Class of 1896Commencement ceremonies have been held at the University of Connecticut since 1882, when, as the Storrs Agricultural School, a ceremony was held to observe the close of the first academic year of the fledling agricultural school for boys. Founded in 1881, the school had its first commencement with graduates in 1883, when six students received graduation certificates.

Over the years, ten of thousands of students have received their diplomas from the University in ceremonies that honor their academic achievements and launch them into the next phase of their lives. For more than 70 years, the University held a single ceremony to award degrees to students in all schools and colleges.

On these pages you’ll learn some of the history of these Commencement ceremonies, including all the speakers since 1882 and you’ll have the opportunity to hear or read some of the addresses to the graduates.

Some UConn Commencement facts and firsts:

  • The speaker at the first commencement with a graduating class in 1883 (the curriculum then was a two-year program), was J.M. Hubbard of Middletown, a member of the Board of Trustees from 1881 to 1896.
  • The first Connecticut governor to speak at commencement was Gov. Thomas M. Waller, in 1884. The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher also delivered remarks that year, during the second commencement for Storrs Agricultural School.
  • The first UConn faculty member to speak at commencement was Wilbur O. Atwater, first director of the Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station, who spoke in 1888, sharing the podium with Gov. Phineas C. Lounsbury.
  • Graduates first wore caps and gowns in 1907. Previously men wore suits and women wore dresses which were some times hand-sewn.
  • There were no commencement ceremonies in 1911 and 1914, due to changes in the curriculum that made the senior class ineligible for graduation.
  • Also in 1914, a high school diploma became a requirement for admission to the college.
  • The first member of the teaching faculty to speak at commencement was Richard E. Dodge, professor of geography, in 1917.
  • The first UConn president to speak at commencement was Albert N. Jorgensen, in 1936. Jorgensen was also the most frequent commencement speaker, addressing 21 graduating classes between 1936 and 1962.
  • The most frequent speaker other than Albert Jorgensen was William E. Simonds of Canton, a member of the Board of Trustees from 1886 to 1903, who spoke at four commencements: in 1885 (when he shared the podium with Gov. Henry B. Harrison), 1887 (with another trustee, E.H. Hyde), 1892 (as sole speaker), and 1896 (again as the only speaker).
  • The first UConn graduate to speak at commencement was Maj. Gen. John H. Hilding, U.S. assistant secretary of state, who spoke in 1946. He was a member of the Class of 1918.
  • The first former U.S. president to speak was George H. W. Bush in 1998.
  • The first U.S. vice president to speak was Alben W. Barkley, in 1950.
  • The first dual ceremony for undergraduates took place in 1950, due to the increasing size of the graduating class.
  • The first University Scholars, named at the 1953 commencement, were: in arts and sciences, Robert W. Blanchette, Geraldine Carlson, Phoebe Pappas, and Allan D. Randall; and in engineering: Charles H. Knapp. Blanchette spoke at Commencement in 1981, the first University Scholar to do so. At the time, he was the new head of the Federal Railroad Administration.
  • Until 1980, all ceremonies were held in Storrs, with law, medical and dental school degree recipients, their families, and faculty and administrators, making the trek to the main campus.
  • The first graduate degree ceremony separate from the baccalaureate ceremony: 1967 – Thomas F. Malone, then vice president and director of research at the Travelers Corp., was the speaker at the ceremony in Jorgensen Auditorium for degree recipients from the Graduate School and the School of Law.
  • The first ceremony to include graduates of the medical and dental schools: 1972 – again held at Jorgensen. Elliot L. Richardson, then Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the administration of Richard M. Nixon, was the speaker.
  • The first separate ceremony for graduates of the School of Law: 1973 – still in Storrs. The speaker was Robert B. McKay, dean of the New York University School of Law.
  • Commencement was held in June from 1882 through 1972, except for 1918, 1942 and 1943 when, during World Wars I & II, ceremonies were held in May. Commencement has been held in May since 1973.
  • The first woman faculty member to speak at commencement was Cynthia H. Adams, professor of allied health and chair of the 100 Years of Women at UConn Committee, who spoke in 1992.

Information on the History of Commencement pages was researched and compiled by Mark J. Roy