Contents and Arrangement

Series 1, Program Records, 1748-2022

24 boxes

Collection Overview

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

Series 1, Program Records, 1748-present, contains commencement, class day, and Service of Remembrance programs; pamphlets; schedules; valedictory and salutatory addresses; and newspaper clippings.

The series begins with both general and undated files as well as files concerning the Freshmen, Sophomore, and Junior commencements. Many of the earliest years contain only reprinted newspaper accounts describing events as they occurred. One of the earliest manuscripts in the collection is entitled "A Dialogue on Peace" presented as an entertainment on September 28, 1763, directly after the conclusion of the French and Indian Wars. The pamphlet contains both the text and music for the dialogue.

One of the earliest Valedictory addresses is Ashbel Green's address in 1783. A copy of the address is in the 1783 commencement file. These addresses were first given in 1760 by a high ranking student. Through the years valedictory addresses have tried to sum up the experience of college life in relation to the world the seniors were about to enter.

Salutatory addresses date back to the first commencement in 1748. Though no actual addresses appear in the files until 1903, newspaper articles occasionally elaborate on them. This address was traditionally delivered by the highest ranking member of the senior class and is Princeton's oldest student honor. The salutatorian delivered this half-hour address in Latin, in keeping with the serious tone of the formal proceedings of commencement. Today the Salutatory, while still in Latin, is quite short, and each student receives English translations of the speech (with prompts in it for laughing and exclamations), in hopes that the audience will be suitably impressed with their Latin skills.

Several types of programs also can be found in the files. One of these is the Service of Remembrance Program. Although these were first conducted as a memorial service for Princeton's war dead in 1919, no actual program appears until 1940. In 1943 the service was broadened to include all alumni who died during the preceding year. In 1970, the program was moved to Alumni Day weekend in February.

Class Day exercises are held by the students on Cannon Green and are generally filled with wit and wisdom, mocking both faculty and students alike. The earliest "program" can be found in 1856, though as the years go by the programs become much more colorful and elaborate. By 1913 they are bound in leather and contain numerous photographs, a schedule of commencement events and cannon exercises as well as the class roll.

The baccalaureate service is one of Princeton's oldest traditions, and the earliest program dates from 1889. The earliest recorded address was delivered by Samuel Davies in 1760 entitled "Religion and Public Spirit." Baccalaureate is held the Sunday before commencement. Also included are printed programs to senior dinners and balls which were given during commencement celebrations.

Commencement programs themselves appear in 1792 with a schedule of the day's events. As the years advance the programs grow in length and scope. In 1913 they expanded to several pages giving greater detail to the exercises and listing all graduates and prize winners. Today the program runs some 48 pages and contains the names of graduating seniors and advanced degree recipients. Also included are the names of the processional participants, honorary degree recipients, lists of students earning departmental honors, undergraduate awards, prizes, and commissions, fellowships, retirements, and winners of the President's distinguished teaching awards. Background information on the history of the trustees of the university, the Commencement Committee and the Senior Class Steering Committee is also provided.

Within the files are printed schedules of the week's events as well as daily events of importance. Invitations to students and their parents to dinners and balls are included, the earliest one being an 1809 invitation to the Commencement Ball on Wednesday evening the 27th of September at a Mr. Craig's in Princeton.

Numerous newspaper and magazine articles also appear throughout the files, as well as extensive lists indicating students' hometown or class ranking. Sometimes booklets with instructions to staff for setting up reunions and commencement equipment are found, or instructions for the marshals. Finally a "Commentary on Commencement" pamphlet located in the files from 1949 to 1968 gives a good overview and background to the commencement proceedings.


Arranged chronologically by year.

Collection History


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Carl Esche in 1995. Finding aid written by Carl Esche in 1995. Additional materials added to Series 5: Oversize items by Christie Peterson with assistance from Suchi Mandavilli '14 in November 2011. Finding aid updated by Christie Peterson in December 2011. Finding aid updated by Phoebe Nobles in 2019-2024.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. The Trustees of Princeton University hold copyright to all materials generated by Princeton University employees in the course of their work. For instances beyond Fair Use, if copyright is held by Princeton University, researchers do not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with use of materials from the Princeton University Archives.

For instances beyond Fair Use where the copyright is not held by the University, while permission from the Library is not required, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Series 1, Program Records; Princeton University Commencement Records, AC115, Princeton University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (mudd): Boxes 1-21; 23-24; 30

Find More

Related Materials

Historical Photograph Collection–Commencement

Princeton Weekly Bulletin (June issues)

Princeton Alumni Weekly (Summer issue)

Daily Princetonian (June issues)

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