Name Dropping: A list of famous Commencement Week speakers at Princeton

In a previous post we discussed the history behind commencement at The College of New Jersey and Princeton University. Here, we highlight the individuals and include links to video and news articles.

For the years 2009- 2012 each name will link to an individual flash based streaming video courtesy of Princeton University WebMedia. These are mobile friendly as well.

Years 1998-2008 can be viewed through this link to WebMedia. Scroll to the appropriate year and download you preferred version to your computer. To view via mobile you will need to open in dropbox.

2012

Photo: Princeton University, Office of Communications, Denise Applewhite (2012)

Michael Lewis – Photo: Princeton University, Office of Communications, Denise Applewhite (2012)

Photo: Princeton University, Office of Communications, Steve McDonald (2012)

Steve Carell – Photo: Princeton University, Office of Communications, Steve McDonald (2012)

2011

2010

2009

2008-1998 Can be downloaded for viewing here.

2008

  • Baccalaureate – Paul Farmer
  • Class Day – Stephen Colbert
  • Commencement – Shirley M. Tilghman

2007

  • Baccalaureate – John Fleming
  • Class Day – Bradley Whitford
  • Commencement – Shirley M. Tilghman

2006

2005

2004

2003

  • Baccalaureate – Fred Hargadon
  • Class Day – Jerry Seinfeld
  • Commencement – Shirley M. Tilghman

2002

  • Baccalaureate – Meg Whitman
  • Class Day – James Baker
  • Commencement – Shirley M. Tilghman

2001

  • Baccalaureate – Emma Bloomberg
Bill Cosby - 2001 Class Day Speaker Photo Courtesy: Princeton Weekly Bulletin

Bill Cosby – 2001 Class Day Speaker
Photo Courtesy: Princeton Weekly Bulletin

  • Class Day – Bill Cosby – This marks the first Class Day Speaker from outside of the University. 
  • Commencement – Shirley M. Tilghman

Previous to 2001 many infamous persons took the podium during the Baccalaureate Ceremonies. The following highlight a few of those. During this time the president of the University presides over commencement and typically gives the commencement address as well as speaks at Class Day.

2000 Baccalaureate  – Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, formerly Lisa Halaby ’73

1999

  • Baccalaureate Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund
  • Class Day/Commencement Harold T. Shapiro
  • The Latin Salutatory speaker Thomas Wickham Schmidt broke tradition by including a marriage proposal to Anastacia Rohrman at the end of his speech. WHT_RohrSchmidtThe event was also covered by NBC’s Today Show where Rothman and Schmidt were interviewed.
  • According to the June 6th, 2007 edition of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, “The two were married in August 2000, after Wick’s first year at Yale Law School.”

WHT_RohrSchmidt2

1998  Baccalaureate: Senator Tom Harkin and wife Ruth Harkin, senior VP at United Technologies Corporation. Parents of Amy Harkin. Both husband and wife spoke to honor 25 years of coeducation at Princeton. This is the first time that there has been two baccalaureate speakers.
1997 – Baccalaureate: Senator William Frist ’74

1996 – Princeton University’s  250th Anniversary

1995 Baccalaureate: Jane Alexander, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts

1994 Baccalaureate: Wynton Marsalis

1993 Baccalaureate: Garry B. Trudeau, Cartoonist. You may view the commencement in its entirety in an upcoming blog post.

1992 Baccalaureate: Rt. Reverend Dr. Frederick H. Borsch ’57
1991 Baccalaureate: William Crowe Jr. *65, retired chair of the Joints Chiefs of Staff
1990 Baccalaureate: Johnetta Cole, President of Spelman College
1989 Baccalaureate: Honorable Andrew Young
1988 Baccalaureate: Representative Patricia Schroeder
1987 Baccalaureate: George E. Rupp ’64
1986 Baccalaureate: Governor Thomas H. Kean ’57
1985 Commencement: William Bowen. Baccalaureate: Ira D. Silverman (Fun Fact: Theodore Seuss Geisel aka ‘Dr. Seuss’ was given an honorary degree this year.)

1984 Baccalaureate: Honorable Paul Sarbanes ’54 P’84, (Maurice Sendak received an honorary degree this year, author of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’)
1983 Baccalaureate: The Rev. Dr. Homer U. Ashby Jr. ‘68
1982 Baccalaureate: The Honorable Charles B. Renfrew, ’52. (Stephen Hawking received an honorary degree)
1981 Baccalaureate: Dr. Sissela Bok,
1980 Baccalaureate: Michael M. Stewart, M.D. ’57, Commencement: William Bowen Minutes from the Senior Class Committee from January 13th, 1980 mention a sub-committee had been formed to find ways to expand Class Day.
1979 Baccalaureate: Redmond C. S. Finney ’51,
1978 Baccalaureate: Gerson D. Cohen
1977 Baccalaureate: Theodore M. Hesburgh
1976 Baccalaureate: James I. McCord
1975 Baccalaureate: Professor Gregory Vlastos, Ph.D., B.D., D. D., LL.D., (Princeton University Philosophy Department)
1974 Baccalaureate: The Reverend Thomas P. Stewart, ’51.
1973 Baccalaureate: The Reverend Dr. John B. Coburn ’36, Charter Trustee

Until 1972, the baccalaureate speaker was the current President of the University. Beginning in 1973, outside speakers were invited.

1969: Representative from the Class Day Committee asks President Goheen to approve the re-institution of planting ivy with class year stone markers around Nassau Hall rather than the previous (expensive) tradition of breaking $200 worth of clay pipes. The representative also suggested that the message of planting rather than destroying is better for Class Day. Commencement: Unlisted. Baccalaureate: President Goheen.

1968: Many of this year’s events were modified due to the Assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy on June 4th. The Alumni parade was smaller and within campus, the baseball game and Triangle Club performances were cancelled. Commencement/Baccalaureate and Class Day President Goheen.

1949 Baccalaureate: Harold Dodds

1945

  • February 22nd 1945 – Winter term exercises held again in Nassau Hall. This also marks the first graduation in two years where honorary degrees have been given. The address was given by the Head of the Faculty Robert K. Root and the benediction was given by the Dean of the University Council.
  • June 23rd 1945 – Spring term exercises held on front campus. Address is given by Dean Christian Gauss. Benediction is given by Dr. Arthur L. Kinsolving.
  • October 22nd 1945 – The smallest number of graduates have commencement held in President Harold Dodds office. 20 students are candidates for degrees. Only 11 are present for the conferring of the degrees.

1944

  • January 5th 1944 – 26 members of Class of 1944 graduated in brief ceremony in Nassau Hall
  • February 22, 1944 – 35 degrees given. Dr. Charles G. Osgood gives the commencement speech. Students in armed forces were instructed to wear uniforms while others wear the traditional cap and gown.
  • April 4th 1944 – 36 degrees given in Nassau Hall.
  • June 24th 1944 – Special Convocation for the Navy V-12 Unit was held on front campus. James V. Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, receives an honorary degree. President Dodds also gave an address to the graduating members.
  • The 24th also included regular commencement exercises with the address given by Dr. Henry P. Van Dusen ’19. President Dodds gave concluding remarks.
  • September 19th and October 19th held additional Special Convocations for the Navy V-12 Unit
  • October 25th a small regular ceremony took place in Nassau Hall.

1943

  • On January 29th and 30th Princeton observed its first winter commencement in almost 200 years. This was due to the 315 members of the 1943 class that sped up their courses so they could report to active duty.
  • Commencement was combined with the baccalaureate address took place in the university chapel. Charles Scribner Jr. gave the Latin Salutatory and President Dodds gave the commencement speaker.
  • Joseph C. Grew, former Ambassador to Japan spoke at the Princeton commencement luncheon
  • The spring commencement was held on May 28th and 29th and would be the last formal commencement for the duration of the war. The class day customary exercises were condensed into one ceremony. President Dodds gave his address at commencement as usual.
  • On September 29th the University held its 3rd commencement ceremony of the year for undergraduates a the end of the current quarter. The ceremony was held in the Faculty Room of Nassau Hall
  • The 4th and final commencement occurred on October 28th for 26 members of the Class of 1944.

1942 The University’s 195th ceremonies took place against a background of total war. A new event was introduced into the commencement season because of this. A Service of Dedication “a dedication of all that we have and all that we are, with no counting of the cost.”

1929 – View scenes from the Class of 1929’s commencement activities in this complimentary blog post.

February 21st, 1920 86 Members of the Class of 1918 & 1919 graduates returning from War Service. Informal exercises were held in the Faculty Room of Nassau Hall. “This was the first time in in the recollection of alumni that graduation exercises were ever conducted at any other time than the spring of the year” The Daily Princetonian Feb 23, 1920.

From 1792 to about 1918 the Valedictory, Salutatory and other speeches were given by students and members of the college. While details are few, the programs still include photos, schedules and class roll. These can be viewed here at the archives at Mudd Library and are located in the Commencement Records collection.

The history of Princeton University Commencement Ceremonies

Every year leading up to the final weeks of classes, commencement and reunions, we receive questions related to the history of commencement activities. In this post we dive right into that subject!

The original commencement of the College of New Jersey was held in Newark, New Jersey on November 9th, 1748. There was a procession, an address from President Aaron Burr followed by graduate disputations, and finally, the awarding of the degrees. You can read more in this Princetionian article from 1932 and this satire, The First Commencement by Lewis Morris Jr.

Nathanial Scudder's College of New Jersey - Master of Arts Degree from 1759 - from the Princeton University Diploma Collection (AC138)

Nathanial Scudder, 1751, College of New Jersey – Honorary Master of Arts Degree from 1759 – from the Princeton University Diploma Collection (AC138)

The Commencement Records (AC115) has a rich description of the history of commencement addresses. One of the earliest Valedictory addresses was given by Ashbel Green’s address in 1783.  These addresses were first given in 1760 by a high ranking student. Through the years valedictory addresses have tried to sum up the experience of college life in relation to the world the seniors were about to enter.

Salutatory addresses date back to the first commencement in 1748. Though no actual addresses appear in the files until 1903, newspaper articles occasionally elaborate on them. This address was traditionally delivered by the highest ranking member of the senior class and is Princeton’s oldest student honor. The salutatorian delivered this half-hour address in Latin, in keeping with the serious tone of the formal proceedings of commencement. Today the Salutatory, while still in Latin, is quite short, and each student receives the speech (with prompts in it for laughing and exclamations), in hopes that the audience will be suitably impressed with their Latin skills.

Class Day exercises are held by the students on Cannon Green and are generally filled with wit and wisdom, mocking both faculty and students alike. The earliest “program” can be found in 1856, though as the years go by the programs become much more colorful and elaborate. By 1913 they are bound in leather and contain numerous photographs, a schedule of commencement events and cannon exercises as well as the class roll.

The baccalaureate service is one of Princeton’s oldest traditions, and the earliest program dates from 1889. The earliest recorded address was delivered by Samuel Davies in 1760 entitled “Religion and Public Spirit.” Baccalaureate is held the Sunday before commencement. Also included are printed programs to senior dinners and balls which were given during commencement celebrations. In Box 1, Folder 1 of the Commencement  Records (AC115), you can find more about Baccalaureate sermons in the paper by Daniel Edward Sack titled, The Last Lecture: Baccalaureate sermons at Princeton University, 1876-1969.

Commencement programs themselves appear in 1792 with a schedule of the day’s events.

Here we see one of the earliest programs in our collection from 1844 when students completed degrees in 2 years.

AC115_1844 Program 1AC115_1844 Program 2

As the years advance the programs grow in length and scope. In 1913 they expanded to several pages giving greater detail to the exercises and listing all graduates and prize winners. Today the program runs some 48 pages and contains the names of graduating seniors and advanced degree recipients. Also included are the names of the processional participants, honorary degree recipients, lists of students earning departmental honors, undergraduate awards, prizes, and commissions, fellowships, retirements, and winners of the President’s distinguished teaching awards. Background information on the history of the trustees of the university, the Commencement Committee and the Senior Class Steering Committee is also provided.

 

A Princeton Companion, by Alexander Leitch explains more about the changes of commencement.

“Princeton held its first commencement in the Newark, New Jersey “meetinghouse.“ Upon moving to Princeton in 1756 commencement services were held in Nassau Hall until 1764 when they were moved to the First Presbyterian Church. In 1892 they were moved to Alexander Hall and in 1922 moved a final time to outside the front of Nassau Hall, where they are still held today. In the event of rain, commencement is moved to Jadwin Gymnasium. Observed in the fall until 1843, the celebration was moved to the spring in 1844.

Commencement activities continue for nearly a week, beginning with alumni returning to campus for alumni/faculty forums on the Thursday afternoon before commencement. Saturday afternoon the annual alumni P-Rade occurs, as well as class reunions usually held outdoors under tents. On Sunday students and their families attend a baccalaureate service in the morning, the president’s garden party in the afternoon and a concert in the evening. Monday is devoted to Class Day exercises, departmental receptions and a senior dance. Formal commencement exercises occur on Tuesday. An academic procession to Nassau Hall begins the festivities, followed by an invocation, the conferring of bachelor degrees, recognition of honors graduates, the valedictory speech, the conferring of master, doctor and honorary degrees, remarks by the president, and the singing of “Old Nassau.”

(From http://paw.princeton.edu/issues/2009/07/15/pages/9577/)

The tradition of short, typically lighthearted speeches from two or three graduating seniors at Class Day began in 2001, when class president Justin Browne ’01 added them to the program, along with a “celebrity” guest speaker. “A lot of the [Commencement events] are just pomp and circumstance,” Browne said, “so we wanted to make Class Day speeches something fun that students get to do for themselves.”

In the coming weeks we will be posting a number of complementary posts related to Commencement Week activities, including a number of newly digitized items that will be posted on our Reel Mudd Audiovisual Blog.