Princeton alumni have a passion for college reunions that is hard to find at most institutions. Each class descends upon the campus every May, as they have for generations. In its early years, College of New Jersey (Princeton) drew alumni back to campus for Commencement, to meet classmates, to reunite with friends, and/or visit with favorite professors, both informally and at organized events. In 1826, alumni returning for Commencement formed the Alumni Association of Nassau Hall to “promote the interests of the college and the friendly intercourse of the graduates, and meetings were to be held annually in the Prayer Hall on commencement day.” James Madison, Class of 1771, was the Association’s first president, and future College president John Maclean was secretary.
It’s no secret that Princetonians love parades; thousands descend upon our small town for each annual celebration of Reunions, the capstone of which is the “P-Rade.” Each class wears its own specially-designed orange and black jacket for this parade. As the Alumni Association notes, this tradition has roots in other, older traditions. It began officially in 1896, when a parade to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the newly-renamed Princeton University (formerly the College of New Jersey) brought thousands of alumni back for a mile-long walk around town, many in costume. Yet a much less well-known and rather short-lived tradition from the early twentieth century was also called the “P-Rade” and treated locals to many unusual sights and sounds on St. Patrick’s Day each year. The St. Patrick’s Day P-Rade had its origins in the parade of students and alumni in 1896, too. This St. Patrick’s Day marks the 100-year anniversary of the last such P-Rade.
While the traditions around Commencement have changed some over the University’s 267 year history, overall it is a remarkably consistent ceremony. Let’s take a look back to 1929. This video shows a number of scenes from a typical Commencement week. We begin with the procession of graduates led by the faculty. Following that, you see a view of the audience assembled on front campus, with some shots of the stage in front of Nassau Hall, where the event is still held today. Finally you will see a few members of the Class of 1929 receiving their degrees, something that has changed. As the typical graduating class now is over 1,100, diplomas are distributed after the commencement ceremony, not handed out individually.
The golf team is featured at 3:50, polo at 4:54, members of the Daily Princetonian, Bric-a-Brac, student council, Triangle Club and Senior Prom committee featured at 6:16, baseball at 8:56 and finally the P-rade at 10:32.
Can you identify anyone in these films? Add your comments!
For more Commencement videos click here!
The Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library has launched a new blog dedicated to its audiovisual holdings. Through it, we will announce items that we have posted on Princeton University’s two YouTube Channels. We encourage viewers to post comments that will contribute to our knowledge and understanding of these materials. In conjunction with the Library’s Preservation Office and the New Media Center, the University Archives has worked to digitize over 40 items and these, along with some films from our Public Policy Papers and additional materials, will be posted on a regular basis.
Our first entry is one of the oldest movies in our audiovisual collection, shot by the Class of 1921 during its graduation weekend (“The Princeton Newsreel Part I”) and its reunions in 1923 and 1926 (“The Princeton Newsreel Part II”). The staged scenes with class members and faculty, which are annotated, demonstrate that silent movies were a new medium. Part I includes scenes of the P-rade and Princeton-Yale baseball match, and named professors, trustees, and class members, followed by exercises with pipe smashing on Cannon Green (24:32). Shots of faculty include President John Grier Hibben (8:15), professors Radcliffe Heermance and Frederick Hutson (9:46), and Colonel William Libbey (13.58). Part II includes varsity rowing with a Princeton victory over Cornell and Yale on Carnegie Lake (26:00), and reunion scenes for 1923 and 1926. During the 1923 reunion the class brought a real tiger (30:03).
This silent 16mm film is part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection (item no. 1948).