The pageantry of Penn’s Commencement is a memorable experience. Graduates process through campus on Locust Walk, snaking their way to Franklin Field with festive red and blue banners fluttering in the wind along the route. Faculty members applaud the graduates. The joyous celebration of student achievement has been held at Franklin Field since 1986.
Before then, however, Commencement was held off-campus and the Commencement procession paraded through Center City streets. That tradition began when the University was located at Fourth and Arch streets, and continued when Penn moved to Ninth Street, near Chestnut. For many years, the Commencement ceremony was held at different grand public halls in Center City. But in 1868 it was moved to the world-renowned Academy of Music on Broad Street, where it remained for nearly 40 years, even after the University moved from Center City to its current site in West Philadelphia.
In this 1901 photo, the procession—cloaked in full academic regalia—is heading down Broad Street toward the Academy of Music. City Hall looms in the background. Tradition held that students marched the entire route from West Philadelphia, and the Trustees, Provost and faculty rode the 20 blocks by horse and carriage.
Student orators were the featured speakers at Commencement in the University’s early years. But by 1910, the ceremony had evolved into an event that resembles today’s Commencement, with one of the honorary degree recipients delivering the keynote address.
The entire Penn community is invited to hear this year’s Commencement speaker, Jon Huntsman, Jr., the U.S. ambassador to China and 1987 Penn alumnus, May 17 at Franklin Field. If you can’t make it to the ceremony, you can watch a webcast at: www.upenn.edu/commencement/.
For more information on this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at www.archives.upenn.edu.
Originally published on May 6, 2010