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... documenting the history of the University of Delaware

Past Commencements – History

Historical Sketch, from the program for the 153rd Commencement (May 25, 2002)
“The University of Delaware traces its roots to a school founded by the distinguished Colonial scholar, The Reverend Dr. Francis Alison, in 1743, in New London, Pennsylvania. By 1765 the school had been moved to Newark where, in 1769, it received a charter as the Academy of Newark from Thomas and Richard Penn.”

“On February 5, 1833, the General Assembly of the State of Delaware passed an act establishing a perpetual charter for a college at Newark. Newark College opened as a degree–granting institution in 1834 and the Academy was merged with it. The institution was renamed Delaware College in 1843, and in 1921 an act of the Delaware General Assembly created the University of Delaware with two colleges – Delaware College and the Women’s College of Delaware.”

“A ceremony was held in 1835 to mark the end of the academic year, but no students received degrees at that time. The first Commencement where students received degrees was held on September 23, 1836, for five young men. Graduating classes remained small for several years and on occasion numbered only one or two students. No commencements were held in 1837 and 1850 because there were no students prepared to graduate. On four occasions, 1847, ’51, ’53, and ’71, only masters’s degrees were awarded. The College was closed in 1859 for financial reasons and the impending Civil War.”

“The Board of Trustees continued to meet and by means of the Morrill Land–Grant Act, the College reopened in 1870, graduating its first new class in 1873. In the years before 1873, there were sixteen years in which no degrees were awarded. Since that time, however, annual commencements have continued uninterrupted.”

Academic Costume, from the program for the 153rd Commencement (May 25, 2002)
“The use of the academic costume, which seems to have originated in the English universities of Oxford and Cambridge, has been traditional in university life since medieval times. In England and other European countries academic attire generally is distinctive with each university so that very colorful ensembles of diverse styles are commonly used abroad.”

“Unlike European academic apparel, the academic costume of American universities follows a regular pattern, the styles and colors having been established by an intercollegiate agreement in 1895. Cap, hood, and gown are prescribed in style. Color variations indicate differences in the field of knowledge presented and the conferring institutions.”

“The mortarboard cap is identical for holders of bachelor’s and master’s degrees. For holders of the doctorate, the cap may be made of velvet and the tassel may be of gold. Candidates for the bachelor’s degree wear the tassel on the right of the cap, changing it to the left side after the degree has been conferred.”

“The bachelor’s gown is designed with full sleeves. The master’s gown, designed with sleeves closed at the base and slit at the elbow, appears to have half-sleeves that leave the forearm uncovered. The doctor’s gown has bell-shaped sleeves with velvet bars and is faced with velvet around the collar and down the front edges.”

“Hoods representing the four levels of degrees differ primarily in size. The colors of the hood lining are characteristic of the conferring college. For example, University of Delaware colors are blue and gold; University of Pennsylvania, red and blue; Columbia, blue and white; etc. The color of the velvet border for the hood indicates the branch of knowledge represented.”