A history of Commencement

In 1824, Columbian College, later to become the George Washington University, graduated its first class of students. There were three graduates.

At that time, the campus consisted of nearly 47 acres of land located between 14th and 15th streets and North Florida Avenue.

The ceremony, held at the Presbyterian Meeting House, now the Willard Hotel, at 14th and F Streets on Dec. 15, 1824, featured several prominent historical figures.

The commencement speaker, or Guest of Honor, was the Marquis De Lafayette, who in 1824 was touring the land that he helped liberate during the American Revolution.

In addition, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, House Speaker Henry Clay, Secretary of War John Calhoun, several Supreme Court Justices, members of Congress and foreign dignitaries attended the ceremony.

President James Monroe attended the first ceremony.

Since the 1824 Commencement ceremony, the event has moved to other locations such as Constitutional Hall, Lisner Auditorium, National Theater, Smith Center and the University Yard.

Commencement was moved to the Ellipse, its current location, in 1992. White House Chief of Staff Samuel K. Skinner addressed the first unified ceremony for all students of the University on the Ellipse.

A ceremony such as the one we are planning creates a memorable event for our graduates and their families — a fitting conclusion to their GW days, said Walter Bortz, vice president for Administrative and Informational Services, in a May 1992 issue of By George.

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