Rich in tradition and ritual, Commencement envelopes our campus in celebration each May. Families unite with pride and emotion as graduating students cherish the final moments of their college experience. Faculty and administrators recognize candidates’ accomplishments, affirming the bonds that have been forged among friends and mentors in the Orange family. And through it all, more than 150 years of footsteps echo deeply across campus as graduates begin the next phase of their life journey.
Commencement Weekend is a flurry of activity on campus, from formal award ceremonies and luncheons to informal photos and gatherings that mark the significance of the occasion.
Each school and college hosts a celebratory Convocation ceremony recognizing individual degree candidates and presenting special awards in the days leading up to the Commencement ceremony.
The Commencement ceremony is a Universitywide event at which the Chancellor and President formally confers degrees for all undergraduate, graduate and doctoral candidates.
Ever since the University’s first Commencement ceremony in 1872, we have embraced time-honored graduation traditions that are imbued with meaning—from carrying the charter mace to planting ivy at the Hall of Languages to singing the alma mater. Each tradition speaks to a University heritage full of spirit, honor, dedication and accomplishment.
Commencement Colors and Regalia
The caps, gowns and hoods associated with graduation ceremonies date back to the Middle Ages, when monks and students wore them as a shield against the dampness and drafts of castles and monasteries. Today, Syracuse University’s Commencement regalia is a colorful spectacle that identifies graduates by their level of achievement and field of study.
- Bachelor’s gowns are distinguished by long, pointed sleeves and may be worn open or closed.
- Master’s gowns are worn open and feature square sleeves that are closed at the end with the forearm coming through a slit near the elbow.
- Doctoral gowns carry broad velvet panels down the front and three velvet bars on full, round, open sleeves. This trimming may be black or a color representing a specific discipline. Doctoral caps may be velvet with gold tassels.
In the student procession, the University’s schools and colleges are distinguished by the accent colors of the banners carried by the class marshals, which match the colors of the tassels on the degree candidates’ caps.
Learn more about school and college colors .
Syracuse University Mace
The Syracuse University charter mace is an ancient symbol of authority and represents the University’s mission and integrity. It was first carried by University Registrar Keith J. Kennedy in the 1949 Commencement procession. The current charter mace was commissioned with funds donated by Gordon D. Hoople G’49, an alumnus, professor and Board of Trustees chair who also served as mace bearer. It was first used in the 1959 Commencement.
Each year, two outstanding seniors are selected as class representatives who embody school spirit, academic excellence and active campus involvement. These senior class marshals have traditionally led the student procession at the Commencement ceremony.
Planting Ivy. In spring 1873, several graduates placed a sprig of ivy in the ground in front of the Hall of Languages. Though that sprig did not make it through the harsh Syracuse winter, the following class decided to try again. This one survived, and for the next seven decades graduates continued to plant ivy along the famed building’s exterior walls.
Syracuse University held its first Commencement on June 27, 1872 in Wieting Opera House in downtown Syracuse, bestowing bachelor’s degrees on 19 students. One of those graduates was Mary L. Huntley, the only female class member at a University that was co-ed from the start. Since then, Commencement has been held in several locations as the University has grown in size, including Crouse College, Archbold Stadium and the stadium.
Learn more about the history of Commencement .
The Syracuse University Commencement speaker is chosen through a selection process that starts more than a year in advance, when students, staff, faculty, alumni and others in the community offer suggestions. Past speakers include such distinguished guests as Joseph R. Biden Jr. L’68, Aaron Sorkin ’83, Ted Koppel ’60, Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Kathrine Switzer ’68, Kurt Vonnegut, Eileen Collins ’78, Nelson A. Rockefeller and Phylicia Rashad.
Watch past Commencement speeches .
Honorary degrees recognize individuals who have made exceptional and notable contributions to Syracuse University or to society more broadly. The Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees nominates candidates and provides recommendations to the full Senate, which makes the final decision. Honorary degrees are typically awarded annually during Commencement Weekend. Past recipients include:
- Floyd Little ’67 (doctor of humane letters)
- Joyce Carol Oates ’60 (doctor of letters)
- Jane Goodall (doctor of science)
- Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons ’58 (doctor of laws)
See all honorary degree recipients .
We’d love to see your pictures from Commencement Weekend! Tag @SyracuseU in your Commencement photos on social media.
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The University is buzzing with excitement and activities surrounding Commencement Weekend. Visit Syracuse University News for the latest information and announcements about Commencement.