- The selection of undergraduate commencement speakers has seen
several trends in the 117 years of the University. In the first
several decades, speakers were trustees, clergymen or agriculturalists.
During the administration of Charles Beach (1908-1928), the
focus shifted to academicians and college presidents. During
the 27 years that Albert Jorgensen was president, a speaker
from outside the university was rare, but there was a shift
to public policy makers and college presidents during the Babbidge
years in the 1960s and into the 1970s. In the 1990s, entertainers
such as Fred Rogers, Michael Bolton and Bill Cosby have headlined
the undergraduate ceremony.
Some commencement facts:
- The first commencement was held in 1882, although there were no
graduates after one year of academic offerings. The ceremony served to
close out the academic year. The first class to receive
diplomas graduated in 1883.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
- 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 ceremony was held in the old Storrs Congregation
al Church, which was later demolished after the new church building
was erected in the 1920s.
Gov. John Dempsey, left,
congratulates President Albert N. Jorgensen on the
occasion of his last commencement address as
president 1962. Jorgensen spoke at commencement 21 times
during his 27 year tenure.
- The first UConn president to speak at commencement was Albert
N. Jorgensen, in 1936.
- The most frequent commencement speaker was Albert Jorgensen,
who spoke 21 times 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 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 most recent Connecticut governor to deliver a commencement
address was John N. Dempsey, in 1964.
- 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 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. The first member of the teaching
faculty to speak at commencement was Richard E. Dodge, professor
of geography, in 1917.
- The first woman faculty member to speak at commencement, in
1992, was Cynthia H. Adams, professor of allied health and chair
of the 100 Years of Women at UConn Committee.
- The first U.S. vice president to speak was Alben W. Barkley,
- The first dual ceremony for undergraduates took place in 1950.
- 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.
- More Commencement history
Mark J. Roy