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Syracuse University Commencement Reference Collection

An inventory of the collection at the Syracuse University Archives


Creator: Syracuse University.
Title: Syracuse University Commencement Reference Collection
Dates: 1872-2023
Size: 19 boxes (12.25 linear feet)
Abstract: Programs, speech transcripts, and invitations from Syracuse University's commencements and related activities
Language: English
Repository: University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Ave., Suite 600
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Historical Note

Photograph of graduates entering in procession during the 1954 commencement

Syracuse University was founded on March 24, 1870, when its Board of Trustees signed the University charter and certificate of incorporation, acting on a proposal put forth earlier that year at the Methodist State Convention. Despite its modest beginnings, the story of Syracuse University has been one of remarkable growth and progress. The University’s population has expanded from a few dozen local students to over 21,000 students from all over the world. Significant eras of development in campus building and academic programs included the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries and the post-World War II years. The second half of the twentieth century saw the University transform into a modern research institution with international connections.

At the first commencement in 1872, there were 19 total graduates: nine candidates for the Bachelor of Arts and ten for the Bachelor of Science. As Syracuse University was co-ed from the start, one of the graduates was a woman named Mary L. Huntley, who received a Bachelor of Science.

In the 1940s and early 1950s, the University experienced a dramatic increase in class sizes due to veteran enrollment under the G.I. Bill post-World War II. As a result, during this time the University held multiple commencement ceremonies per year.

As the University grew in size and additional colleges and programs of study were established, the commencement exercises expanded from one ceremony for all students to separate commencement exercises for the various colleges and schools of the university.

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Scope and Content Note

The collection comprises programs, calendars, invitations, and transcripts of addresses, honorary degree citations, and baccalaureate sermons from Syracuse University commencement ceremonies and the commencement week's surrounding events. There are also a number of original designs for the commencement robes from the early 1950s.

Some notable commencement speakers whose transcribed speeches feature in the collection include Dorothy Thompson, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Hubert Humphreys, Walter Cronkite, and William Safire. Additionally, the valedictory speech of Joyce Carol Oates '60 numbers among the collection materials.

There are also a number of bound volumes, containing commencement programs from 1872 to 2005. The later programs were called Registers of Graduates.

Please note that the Archives' material related to commencement is split into two collections. The Syracuse Commencement Reference Collection holds unrestricted, general information about the commencement events and is readily available to researchers. The Syracuse University Commencement Collection is its corresponding collection, housed off-site and containing some restricted material as well as planning and internal files.

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Access Restrictions

There are no access restrictions for this collection.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from the Syracuse University Archives and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Related Material

Much of the material related to the planning or review of commencement ceremonies was separated and added to the Syracuse University Commencement Collection.

A significant number of press releases and clippings were removed and placed with the Archives' clippings files on commencement.

Reunion materials were removed and added to the Syracuse University Alumni Reference Collection.

A number of programs for the Syracuse University College for Human Development's honors convocation were removed and added to the Syracuse University College for Human Development Records.

The Archives has a more comprehensive collection on commencement, the Syracuse University Commencement Collection. Additionally, the Archives has several clippings and photographs files on commencement.

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Selected Search Terms


Buckley, William F., Jr., 1925-2008.
Cronkite, Walter.
Fulbright, J. William (James William), 1905-1995.
Giuliani, Rudolph W.
Haig, Alexander Meigs, 1924-2010.
Humphrey, Hubert H. (Hubert Horatio), 1911-1978.
Kennedy, Edward M. (Edward Moore), 1932-2009.
Kennedy, John F.
Lehman, Herbert H. (Herbert Henry), 1878-1963.
Oates, Joyce Carol, 1938-
Pearson, Lester B.
Rockefeller, Nelson A. (Nelson Aldrich), 1908-1979.
Safire, William, 1929-2009.
Snow, C. P. (Charles Percy), 1905-1980.
Stevenson, Adlai E. (Adlai Ewing), 1900-1965.
Thompson, Dorothy, 1893-1961.
Tolley, William Pearson, 1900-1996.
Udall, Stewart L.
Syracuse University -- History.
Syracuse University.


Commencement ceremonies.
Higher education.

Types of material

Costume designs.
Programs (documents)
Watercolors (paintings)

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Syracuse University Commencement Reference Collection,
University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

The materials in the collection were transferred by campus offices and donated by outside donors.

Processing Information

Materials were rehoused in archival folders and boxes.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: Erin Gravley
Date: 2018
Revision history: March 2024 - OS box renumbered, REF-Box 18 added (SS)

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Materials are arranged alphabetically by subject.

From 1943 to 1953, as the number of graduates and graduates in accelerated programs increased, the University held multiple commencement ceremonies throughout the year. As a result, during that span of time there are multiple folders per year, organized chronologically by commencement date.

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REF-Box 1 Commencement 1872-1894 (23 folders)
REF-Box 2 Commencement 1895-1910 (16 folders)
REF-Box 3 Commencement 1911-1916 (6 folders)
REF-Box 4 Commencement 1917-1924 (8 folders)
REF-Box 5 Commencement 1925-1935 (11 folders)
REF-Box 6 Commencement 1936-1944 (14 folders)
REF-Box 7 Commencement 1945-1952 (19 folders)
REF-Box 8 Commencement 1953-1959 (8 folders)
REF-Box 9 Commencement 1960-1965 (6 folders)
REF-Box 10 Commencement 1966-1970 (5 folders)
REF-Box 11 Commencement 1971-1977 (7 folders)
REF-Box 12 Commencement 1978-1984 (7 folders)
REF-Box 13 Commencement 1985-1994 (10 folders)
REF-Box 14 Commencement 1995-2000 (6 folders)
REF-Box 15 Commencement 2001-2005 (5 folders)
REF-Box 16 Commencement 2006-2011 (6 folders)
REF-Box 17 Commencement 2012-2016 (6 folders)
REF-Box 18 Commencement 2017-2023 (6 folders)
REF-Box 17 Commencement undated
Commencement 1907-1950 (3 bound volumes)
Commencement and baccalaureate programs 1900-1937 (1 bound volume)
Commencement programs 1872-1949 (13 bound volumes)
REF-Box Oversize 1 Commencement robe design - drawings circa 1950
REF-Box Oversize 1 Commencement robe design - supporting materials 1949-1950, 1976 undated
REF-Box 17 General information 1894-1907, 1953-1975
Register of graduates 1970-2005 (7 bound volumes)

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