Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History

Sauer, Anne

Branco, Jessica

Bennett, John

Crowley, Zachary


Commencement, 1856


The first Tufts Commencement was held on the second Wednesday in July, 1856, although no students had yet met the requirements for graduation. Tufts College held a public dinner, and the audience listened to speeches by Thomas Jefferson Sawyer and Elmer Hewitt Capen.

In 1857, Tufts College conferred degrees on graduating students for the first time. Continuing the tradition established a year earlier, the ceremony was held on the second Wednesday in July. The graduating students were each assigned a part in the ceremony, and delivered a speech in accordance with their class rank. From 1857 to 1878, each graduate delivered a speech, beginning with the Salutary and culminating in the Valedictory Oration. Until 1868, the Salutary and the Valedictory Address were delivered in Latin, and Latin was used to announce speakers, their topics, and even to bestow degrees. By 1878, however, the number of graduates was too high for each student to speak, as the ceremony would have lasted all day. Instead, the best students competed for a chance to be one of six student speakers at commencement.

In 1861, faculty began electing marshals to participate in the ceremonies. In 1870, students were granted the privilege of electing the class marshals. At these early commencements, students dressed in formal clothes, but it was not until 1882 that students wore the now traditional cap and gown. Faculty did not begin wearing robes and hoods until 1902.

From 1857 to 1879, graduates were listed in alphabetical order on the commencement program. In 1879, the administration decided to list students in order of scholarship, or ranking, to honor students for the academic achievements. Eventually, a compromise was reached, and now students are listed alphabetically by degree, with their academic honors noted after their names.

Beginning with the first official commencement and lasting until 1875, the Mathetican Society, Tufts' first student organization, organized an oratory program to follow the commencement ceremonies. In 1875, the Association of Alumni took over the job, and presently, each college holds a luncheon for the graduates.

In 1893, Henrietta Noble Brown became the first female to present an oration at commencement, and in 1896 Mary A. Livermore became the first female recipient of an honorary degree.

Commencement continued in the same fashion until 1943, when student speakers were removed from the program. Instead, one of the honorary degree recipients delivered the commencement address.

Presently, commencement begins at nine in the morning on a Saturday in May. After a processional featuring graduates from all of Tufts' colleges, the entire group listens to the commencement address and watches the presentation of honorary degrees. The College of Liberal Arts, the College of Engineering, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Special Studies remain on the academic quad for degree presentation. The Fletcher School, School of Medicine, School of Dental Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, and the School of Nutrition Science and Policy, retire to separate locations for their own graduation ceremonies. Students have once again been integrated into the commencement program, with one student awarded the chance to speak at each school's ceremony.

Source: LOH, 86-88, 592

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  • The encyclopedia seeks to capture more than 150 years of Tufts' achievements, societal contributions and outstanding alumni and faculty in concise entries. As a source of accurate factual information, the Encyclopedia can be used by anyone interested in the history of Tufts and of the people who have made it the unique institution it is.
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Numeric Entries
Dame, Lorin Low, 1838-1903
Dana, Charles A., 1881-1975
Dana Laboratory, 1963
Daniel Ounjian Prize in Economics,
Davies, Caroline Stodder, 1864-1939
Davies House, 1894
De Florez Prize in Human Engineering, 1964
de Pacheco, Kaye MacKinnon, ca. 1910-ca. 1985
Dean Hall, 1887-1963
Dean, Oliver, 1783-1871
Dearborn, Heman Allen, 1831-1897
Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, 1893
Department of Anesthesia, 1970
Department of Art and Art History, 1930
Department of Biochemistry, 1893
Department of Chemistry, 1882
Department of Community Health, 1930
Department of Dermatology, 1897
The Department of Economics, 1946
Department of Medicine, 1893
Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology
Department of Neurology, 1893
Department of Neuroscience, 1983
Department of Neurosurgery, 1951
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1893
Department of Ophthamology, 1893
Department of Orthopedic Surgery, 1906
Department of Otolaryngology, 1895
Department of Pathology, 1893
Department of Pediatrics, 1930
Department of Pharmacology, 1915
Department of Physics and Astronomy, 1854
Department of Physiology, 1893
Department of Psychiatry, 1928
Department of Radiation Oncology, 1968
Department of Radiology, 1915
Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, 1955
Department of Surgery, 1893
Department of Urban and Environmental Policy, 1973
Department of Urology, 1910
Dental Health Sciences Building, 1969
Dewick, Cora Alma (Polk), 1875-1977
Dewick/MacPhie Dining Hall, 1959
Dickson Professorship of English and American History, 1913
Dirlam, Arland A., 1905-1979
Dog Cart, 1900
Dolbear, Amos Emerson, 1837-1910
Donald A. Cowdery Memorial Scholarship, 1946
Dr. Benjamin Andrews Professorship of Surgery, 1987
Dr. Philip E. A. Sheridan Prize, 1977
The Drug Bust, 1970
Dudley, Henry Watson, 1831-1906
Dugger, Edward Jr., 1919-75
Durkee, Frank W., 1861-1939
Durkee, Henrietta Noble Brown, 1871-1946
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