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Yesteryear Archives: Advanced Degree Commencement

Commencement is observed in five separate ceremonies at three different locations - three in Storrs, with twin baccalaureate ceremonies and the advanced degree ceremony; and the others in Hartford at the School of Law, and in Farmington at the Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine.

Until 1980, however, all ceremonies were held in Storrs, with law, medical and dental school degree recipients, their families, and faculty and administrators, making the trek to the main campus.

At the start of the University's history, two-year, and later, three-year, certificates were awarded. Starting in 1915, four-year baccalaureate degrees for undergraduates were presented at Commencement. The first commencement for six graduating seniors of the Storrs Agricultural School was held in 1883. A few master's degrees were awarded in the 1920s (even though Connecticut Agricultural College was not accredited to do so), but it wasn't until the mid-1940s, after the formation of the Graduate School in 1940, that master's degrees were officially awarded. And the first Ph.D.s were awarded in 1949, in a ceremony combined with that for baccalaureate degrees.

Here are some advanced degree commencement facts and firsts:

First graduate degree ceremony separate from the baccalaureate ceremony: 1967 - Thomas F. Malone, then vice president and director of research at the Travelers Corp., was the speaker at the ceremony in Jorgensen Auditorium for degree recipients from the Graduate School and the School of Law.

First ceremony to include graduates of the medical and dental schools: 1972 - again held at Jorgensen. Elliot L. Richardson, then Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the administration of Richard M. Nixon, was the speaker.

First separate ceremony for graduates of the School of Law: 1973 - still in Storrs. The speaker was Robert B. McKay, dean of the New York University School of Law.

First time ceremonies were held away from Storrs: 1980 - the law school and the medical and dental school ceremonies were relocated to their own campuses. Judge Ellen B. Burns, federal district court justice, spoke at the law ceremony in Hartford, and Jean Mayer, then president of Tufts University, spoke during the ceremony at the Health Center in Farmington.

First UConn administrator to address a graduate ceremony: Nathan L. Whetten, dean of the Graduate School, delivered the address in 1970 to a combined graduate and law school audience.

Most frequent speaker: three individuals have spoken two times each at advanced degree ceremonies -

  • Homer D. Babbidge Jr. (president of UConn from 1962-1972) spoke at the graduate ceremony in 1975, when he was Master at Yale University's Timothy Dwight College, and in 1981 was the speaker at the UConn Health Center, when he was serving as President of the Hartford Graduate Center;
  • Lowell P. Weicker, Connecticut's governor from 1991 to 1995, spoke in 1987 at the Health Center, when he was still a U.S. Senator; then in 1989, when he was president of Research! America, he spoke at the law school ceremony; and
  • Judge Jon O. Newman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, has spoken twice at the law school ceremony, in 1984 and 1991.

Taking into account his undergraduate commencement address in 1972, Homer Babbidge is the only person to have been the speaker at three separate UConn ceremonies.

The complete list of advanced degree ceremony speakers can be found on the UConn News website.

Mark J. Roy

 

Sources: Commencement Program, 1967 to the present. Additional information from various issues of the Connecticut Daily Campus. These materials and others on the history of UConn can be found in the University Archives of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.

Thomas Malone, left, vice president and director of research of Travelers Corp., spoke at the first graduate degree ceremony held in 1967. He is shown here with then-Gov. John N. Dempsey, center, and UConn President Homer D. Babbidge, Jr.

 

President Babbidge, left, displays the tricorn mortarboard to be worn by the first class of medical and dental school students for the June 1972 commencement. Also shown are Henry Ferrin Jr. of Yonkers, New York, center, a candidate for the DMD degree, and Thomas Gorin of East Hampton, who received his MD degree. The tricorn, introduced two years earlier by Babbidge as a UConn commencement tradtition, is no longer worn.