Facts About Commencement



There are 9,000 seats set up on the Green for the Commencement festivities. College staff began the set-up work on Wednesday, June 8. (photo by Martin Grant)

Facts about Commencement

  • Dartmouth Commencements began on the Green, the first Commencement in 1771, and take place there now, but that’s not always been the case. Over the years, graduation has been held at College Hall (1775-85), now part of Collis Center; in unfinished Dartmouth Hall (1787-89); in Webster Hall (1908-31), now Rauner Special Collections Library; at the Bema (1932-52), Dartmouth’s outdoor amphitheater; on Baker Lawn (1953-94); and, in 1995, on Memorial Field, when then-President Bill Clinton delivered the Commencement address during a soaking rain. A year later, the ceremony moved back to the Green, where it has been ever since.
  • There is no record of the ceremony ever being cancelled due to bad weather.
  • The academic procession, which travels from the front of the Hopkins Center for the Arts to the platform on the Green, is led by Provost Carol Folt, as chief marshal, and ends with the most junior members of the Tuck School of Business faculty. In addition to the faculty, the procession includes college officers, members of the Board of Trustees, honorary degree recipients, and the Commencement speaker, this year talk show host Conan O’Brien.
  • Also marching to the Green this year will be members of the Class of 1961, who are celebrating their 50th reunion. Two ’61s will receive honorary degrees at Commencement: philanthropist and retired executive Russell “Ron” Boss and University of California brain scientist Michael Gazzaniga, a former dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Dartmouth.
  • This year, graduates are doing their part to further Dartmouth’s sustainability mission. Each student’s cap and gown is made from 23 recycled drinking water bottles. The graduates may keep their regalia after the ceremony or recycle it in one of several bins set up on the Green. Recycled caps and gowns will be used again, getting new life as outdoor artificial turf.
  • Each year, the population of the town of Hanover, approximately 6,500, more than doubles, as family and friends arrive for Commencement. The annual celebration is the largest event to take place in Hanover each year.
  • There are 9,000 seats set up on the Green for the day’s festivities. College staff began the set-up work on Wednesday.
  • Secret Service officers will be present at Commencement to watch over former President George H.W. Bush. Members of the Secret Service were last at Commencement in 2007, when Henry Paulson ’68, then secretary of the Treasury, delivered the Commencement address.
  • Former President George H.W. Bush, who will receive an honorary degree this year, isn’t the first president to be honored at Dartmouth’s Commencement. President Bill Clinton delivered the Commencement address in 1995, while he was in office. In 1953, then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower received an honorary degree, then delivered an informal address following the main speaker.
  • Other speakers of note include Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, who spoke in 1806; Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 1843; Walt Whitman, in 1872; Robert Frost, Class of 1896, spoke in 1955; Nelson Rockefeller ’30, in 1969; and in 2002, graduates heard from Fred Rogers ’50.
  • There were no Commencement ceremonies from 1943 to 1945. And from 1900 to 1942 and 1972 to 1982, none of the speakers came from outside of Dartmouth.
  • The town of Hanover will more than double its police staffing—to 10 officers—on Sunday to provide traffic control in town, especially near the Green.
  • Speaking of traffic, it will be a challenge to find a parking spot close to the Green. The college has about 3,200 parking spaces on campus and will run shuttle buses from distant lots. In addition, there are 1,203 town-owned spots. The good news: Parking in town spaces is free on Commencement day.
  • The undergraduates who comprise the Class of 2011 arrived in Hanover in the fall of 2007, hailing from 49 states and 44 countries.
  • Some 17 percent of the first-year students who started at Dartmouth in the fall of 2007 had been valedictorian or salutatorian of their high school class. Members of the new class represented just 15 percent of the more than 14,000 high school students who applied for admission to Dartmouth that year.
  • The book-length Commencement program has, of late, run to more than 60 pages. This year, 13,500 copies will be printed the day before the ceremony.
  • Each year for 50 years, Hartford, Conn., trumpeter Roger Murtha has played at Dartmouth’s Commencement. Murtha, and the other members of a brass quintet from The Hartt School at the University of Hartford, for years began the ceremony playing atop Baker Tower. Now advanced in years, the musicians prefer to play with their feet firmly planted on the Green. Murtha, a Mohegan Indian, has a special bond with Dartmouth, which was founded, in part, as a school to educate Indian youth.
  • Hundreds of staff across the college have been working for more than a year to make certain Commencement 2011 goes off without a hitch. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about what will happen on June 10, 2012. Preparations for the next Commencement ceremony are already underway.
Written by
Susan J. Boutwell