Archives and Special Collections
92 Snell Library
360 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115
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Archives and Special Collections Finding Aids

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Collection Overview
Title:Commencement Committee records
Dates:1912-2002
Location:30/1
Call Number:A54
Volume:7.5 cubic ft. (14 boxes)
Scope and Content Note: Records of the Northeastern University Commencement Committee document commencement ceremonies between 1912 and 2002. The first series documents eligible degree candidates and is restricted. The second series contains information about Northeastern University commencement ceremonies, including planning and publicity efforts, the students who were in the ceremonies, and the individuals who received honorary degrees and gave addresses. Included are scattered commencement addresses, particularly between 1945 and 1985. The third series documents scattered School of Law commencement ceremonies between 1977 and 2000. The fourth series contains material relating to the commencement ceremonies at the Huntington School, the Lincoln Institute, and Northeastern University evening divisions outside of Boston. A fifth series consists of commencement formularies for 1976-1989. The final series contains audio-visual material documenting scattered commencement ceremonies between 1965 and 1993. A set of Northeastern University commencement programs is also available in the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections.
Historical Abstract: Northeastern University held its first commencement ceremony in 1902, when 21 students graduated from the Evening Law Institute of the Boston YMCA. Northeastern University held its commencement ceremonies in a variety of locations in between 1902 and 1952, including Jordan Hall (now part of the New England Conservatory of Music), Boston Arena (now Northeastern University's Matthews Arena), Symphony Hall, New England Mutual Hall, and Alumni Auditorium (now Northeastern University's Blackman Auditorium). Between 1953 and 1995, commencement ceremonies were held at the Boston Garden. Since 1996, they have been at the Fleet Center. In response to an increasing number of graduates, beginning in 1967 a fall commencement ceremony was added in September, following the summer quarter. In 1972, President Asa S. Knowles announced there would be two commencement ceremonies; the morning ceremony was for of the full-time undergraduate students from Northeastern University's eight basic colleges, while the afternoon ceremony recognized part-time undergraduates and graduate students. In 1977, the Northeastern University School of Law began to hold its own commencement ceremony in May to accommodate growth in its student body.
Arrangement:Organized into 6 series: 1. Eligible Degree Candidates; 2. Northeastern University Commencements; 3. School of Law Commencements; 4. Divisions and Institutes Commencements; 5. Formularies; and 6. Audio-Visual.
Subjects and Contributors:
  • Abrams, Frank W. (Frank Whittemore)
  • Adams, Arthur Stanton
  • Beal, Orville E.
  • Bowditch, Richard Lyon
  • Bownes, Hugh, Judge
  • Burns, John Lawrence
  • Chisholm, Shirley, 1924-
  • Collins, Michael, 1930-
  • Dukakis, Michael S. (Michael Stanley), 1933-
  • Fanning, Katherine
  • Hennessey, Edward Francis, Judge
  • Higginbotham, A. Leon (Aloyisus Leon), 1928-
  • Jackson, Jesse, 1941-
  • Johnston, Philip
  • Katzenbach, Nicholas deB. (Nicholas deBelleville), 1922-
  • Kennedy, Edward Moore, 1932-
  • Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963.
  • Kimball, Charles N. (Charles Newton), 1911-1994.
  • McCaffrey, John L.
  • Morse, F. Bradford
  • Mosher, Ira,; 1887-1968.
  • Muskie, Edmund S., 1914-1996.
  • Orr, Bobby, 1948-
  • Pell, Claiborne, 1918-
  • Smith, Margaret Chase, 1897-1995.
  • Sprague, Robert Chapman
  • Tolley, William Pearson, 1900-1996.
  • Tsongas, Paul
  • Warner, John Christian, 1897-1989.
  • Weaver, Robert Clifton, 1907-1997.
  • Webb, James E. (James Edwin), 1906-1992.
  • Whipple, Fred Lawrence, 1906-2004.


  • Baccalaureate addresses--Massachusetts--Boston
  • College graduates--Massachusetts--Boston
  • Commencement ceremonies--Massachusetts--Boston
  • Northeastern University (Boston, Mass.)--Degrees
  • Northeastern University (Boston, Mass.)--Alumni and alumnae
  • Northeastern University (Boston, Mass.)--Commencement Committee

Restrictions:Records are closed for 25 years from their date of creation, unless researchers have written permission from the creating office. Student records (Series 1, boxes 1-4) are restricted for 75 years from the date of graduation.
Processor:Finding aid prepared by Stein Helmrich, April 2002

Historical Note

In 1902, 21 students graduated from the Evening Law Institute of the Boston YMCA. This marked the first annual commencement ceremony of what is now Northeastern University. The school held its commencement ceremonies in a variety of locations in between 1902 and 1952, including Jordan Hall (now part of the New England Conservatory of Music), Boston Arena (now Northeastern University's Matthews Arena), Symphony Hall, New England Mutual Hall, and Alumni Auditorium (now Northeastern University's Blackman Auditorium). Between 1953 and 1995, commencement ceremonies were held at the Boston Garden. The Fleet Center has served as the host of Northeastern University's graduation since 1996. Due to Northeastern University's association with the YMCA, early commencements had a substantial religious component. Most notably, until 1943 a Baccalaureate Sermon was held the Sunday before the commencement ceremony in various Boston churches, usually the Trinity Church or the New Old South Church in Copley Square. In 1941, Northeastern University President Carl Stephens Ell, delivered the first presidential address, known as the Presidential Charge. During the 1976 commencement the first official student oration was given; however, student speakers had sporadically been part of earlier ceremonies.

In response to an increasing number of graduates, beginning in 1967 a fall commencement ceremony was added in September, following the summer quarter. In 1972, President Asa S. Knowles announced there would be two commencement ceremonies, because in the previous year almost 4,000 students participated in a four-and-one-half hour ceremony. The morning ceremony was for of the full-time undergraduate students from Northeastern University's eight basic colleges, while the afternoon recognized part-time undergraduates and graduate students. In 1977, the School of Law decided to hold its own commencement ceremony in May to accommodate growth in its student body.

Guest speakers and the awarding of honorary degrees have been a constant tradition at the Northeastern University commencement ceremony. Josiah Quincy gave the commencement address at the first ceremony in 1902, and almost every ceremony since then has had a prominent guest speak. The major exception to this occurred in 1972-1977, when no speaker was invited. Guest speakers at Northeastern University have included John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1956, Barbara Bush in 1991, Bill Clinton in 1993, and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1998. The Northeastern University Law School Commencement also hosted a guest speaker its first year, District Court Judge Hugh H. Bownes of New Hampshire. The fall commencement's first guest speaker was former Boston Bruin Bobby Orr in 1984.

An Honorary Degree was first granted by Northeastern University in 1921. Beginning in 1931, eight to ten honorary degrees have been granted each year. The Law School granted honorary degrees in its first ceremony in 1971. In 1988, the Law School became the first American university to grant South African Nelson Mandela an honorary degree. While still in prison, Mandela was granted an absentee Doctorate of Laws for his struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Honorary degrees were also awarded during the fall commencement ceremonies beginning in 1984. See http://www.lib.neu.edu/archives/backgrnd/commenc.htm for a list of honorary degree recipients and commencement speakers.

Between 1919 and 1921, Northeastern University formed five evening school divisions in Bridgeport, New Haven, Providence, Springfield, and Worcester. The Worcester division was the first to hold its own commencement ceremony in 1920, and the last was the Springfield division in 1951. The divisions all held their own ceremonies in June of each year. In 1924, the Bridgeport division became the Bridgeport Engineering Institute (now part of Fairfield University). The New Haven Division separated in 1926 and is now the University of New Haven. The Providence division became Roger Williams University during the 1940s. The Worcester Division became Worcester Junior College, which closed its doors in 1989. In 1951, the Springfield Division was the last to separate its ties with Northeastern University, becoming Western New England College.

Chronology
1898The Evening Law Institute is founded
1902The Evening Law Institute holds its first commencement ceremony for 21 students
1904The General Court of the Commonwealth grants the Evening Law Institute the power to grant the bachelor of laws degree
1911The School of Commerce and Finance is authorized to grant the bachelor's and master's degree in Commercial Science
1912Commencement is held in Ford Hall
1915Commencement is moved to Jacob P. Bates Hall
1916Northeastern College of the Boston YMCA is incorporated
1917Commencement moves to Jordan Hall
1920Massachusetts state legislature authorizes Northeastern College to grant bachelors degrees in civil, mechanical, chemical, and electrical engineering, in conjunction with the Co-op School of Engineering
1922Northeastern College renamed Northeastern University
1934Commencement is held in the Boston Arena
1935Northeastern University becomes independent from the Boston YMCA
1941President Ell gives the first Presidential Charge at the June commencement
1943The last commencement Baccalaureate Sermon is held
1953Commencement moves to the Boston Garden
1967Northeastern University holds its first fall commencement ceremony
1972Northeastern University begins morning and afternoon commencement ceremonies
1976The first official student oration is given at June's commencement
1977The School of Law holds its first separate commencement ceremony
1979The fall commencement moves to Symphony Hall, the first off-campus location for the ceremony
1984The fall ceremony grants honorary degrees and invites a guest speaker for the first time
1988The School of Law becomes the first American university to honor South African Nelson Mandela
1996The Commencement ceremony moves to the Fleet Center
Bibliography

Feldscher, Karen. Northeastern University-The Curry Years: Smaller but Better, 1989-1996 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2000). (LD4011.N22 F45 2000)

Frederick, Antoinette. Northeastern University-An Emerging Giant: 1959-1975 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1982). (LD4011.N22 F7x)

Frederick, Antoinette. Northeastern University-Coming of Age: The Ryder Years, 1975-1989 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1995). (LD4011.N22 F732 1995)

Marston, Everett. The Origin and Development of Northeastern University, 1898-1960 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1961). (LD4011.N22 M3)
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Series:

1. Eligible Degree Candidates, 1945-1985 (bulk 1961-1985)
Volume:2.50 cubic ft.
Arrangement:

Chronological
Summary:

This series contains lists of candidates eligible for degrees. The lists were submitted to the commencement committee by NU colleges before the graduation ceremonies. The lists often contain grade point averages and student identification numbers. This series also contains correspondence among individual colleges, students, and NU administrative offices concerning a student's eligibility status.
BoxTitleDate
11945, 1961-19751945, 1961-1975
21976-1982 June1976-1982
31982 September -1984 May1982-1984
41984-1985 June1984-1985
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Series:

2. Northeastern Commencements, 1912-2000
Volume: 4.50 cubic ft.
Arrangement:

Chronological
Summary:

This series makes up a bulk of the collection and documents NU's commencement ceremonies between 1912 and 2002. Material directly relating to the ceremony itself includes commencement programs, baccalaureate sermon programs, invitations, tickets, copies of honorary degree certificates, and the procedural guidelines for the ceremonies. There are scattered commencement addresses, particularly between 1945 and 1985, including the full text of the speech given by Senator John F. Kennedy in 1956 (Box 5, Folder 43). Texts of the President's Charge are commonly found beginning in the 1960s. Copies of the student oration are sporadic after 1976. There are also a few programs from the separate commencement ceremonies of some of NU's part-time programs. Planning records are also available for scattered ceremonies between 1963 and 1988. There are also notes from the Commencement Committee, primarily to-do lists and internal memoranda concerning personnel procedures, as well as a few pins which committee members wore at ceremonies. The series also contains publicity records between 1959 and 1988, relating to the press coverage of the ceremonies. These records include press releases and guidelines, information about honorary degrees candidates, and information about specific graduate students. There is also information documenting a canceled ceremony in May 1988, during which Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela were to receive honorary degrees. In addition, there is information about the Excellence in Teaching Award presented at the 1987 and 1988 commencement ceremonies.
BoxTitleDate
51912-1916 (5 folders)1912-1916
519191919
51921-1922 (2 folders)1921-1922
51924-1947 (26 folders)1924-1947
51949-1957 (9 folders)1949-1957
5-91959-1997 (193 folders)1959-1997
91999-2002 (4 folders)1999-2002
9Commencement Committee pinsn.d.
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Series:

3. School of Law, 1977-2000
Volume:0.10 cubic ft.
Arrangement:

Chronological
Summary:

This series documents the commencement ceremonies of the School of Law, beginning in 1977 when it first held its own ceremony. Records include programs, press releases, student stories, commencement addresses, information on honorary degree candidates, and procedural instructions for the ceremonies.
BoxTitleDate
91977-1987 (11 folders)1977-1987
919891989
919961996
920002000
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Series:

4. Divisions and Institutes, 1921-1950
Volume:0.10 cubic ft.
Arrangement:

Alphabetical
Summary:

This series documents the commencements of the affiliated divisions and institutes of NU. There are programs from the baccalaureate sermons of NU's five evening divisions: Bridgeport, New Haven, Providence, Springfield, and Worcester. For the Lincoln Institute, there are commencement programs and the procedure for awarding diplomas. For the Huntington School, there are commencement programs.
BoxTitleDate
9Bridgeport Division1923
9The Huntington School1921-1949
9The Lincoln Institute1934-1943
9New Haven Division 1924-1925, 1927
9Providence Division1923-1941
9Springfield Division1923-1950
9Worcester Division1923-1942
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Series:

5. Formularies, 1976-1989
Volume:0.25 cubic ft.
Arrangement:

Chronological
Summary:

This series contains the formularies for commencement ceremonies between 1976 and 1989. These are the procedural guidelines for the actual commencement ceremony. Included are formularies for the morning and afternoon June ceremonies, the School of Law ceremonies, and the September ceremony.
BoxTitleDate
10-111976-19891976-1989
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Series:

6. Audio-Visual, 1965-1993 (bulk 1965-1979)
Volume:0.75 cubic ft.
Arrangement:

Alphabetical and Chronological
Summary:

This series contains audio-visual recordings of scattered commencement ceremonies. There are two VHS tapes relating to the commencement address of President Clinton in 1993 and 16mm films of ceremonies between 1965 and 1977. The audio material consists of cassette tape recordings of speeches between 1977 and 1987.
BoxTitleDate
Audio-Visual Recordings
13n.d.n.d.
141965 (2 16mm film reels)1965
141967 (1 16mm film reel)1967
121968 (1 16mm film reel)1968
141969 (2 16mm film reels)1969
121972 (2 16mm film reels)1972
131973 (3 16mm film reels)1973
121975 (1 16mm film reel)1975
12Sept. 1977 (1 16mm film reel)1977
121993 morning ceremony, Grad-U-Vision (1 VHS tape)1993
121993, Clinton's Address, Channel 5 News (1 VHS tape)1993
Audio Recordings (cassette tapes)
13June 1977, President Ryder's p.m. address1977
13Sept. 1977, President Ryder's address1977
13, 14 June 1978, Rev. Jesse Jackson's and Senator Claiborne Pell's addresses (3 copies)1978
13June 1979, Senator Paul Tsongas's and President Ryder's addresses1979
13Sept. 1979, President Ryder's address1979
13May 1986, Helen Caldicott, School of Law Commencement address1986
13June 1986, Elizabeth Dole, A.M. address1986
13June 1986, William Bulger, P.M. address1986
13June 1987, Barney Frank, A.M. address1987
13June 1987, Doris Kearns Goodwin, P.M. address1987
13Sept. 1987, Lee Hee Hos address1987
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