Doing the math and counting the Commencements

Photo of Emory University Commencement, circa 1950s

Emory University Commencement, circa 1950s.

Yes, we did celebrate Emory’s 175th anniversary in 2011, which was 175 years after Emory College at Oxford, Georgia, was chartered in December 1836. So why is this year’s Commencement billed as Emory’s 169th? The first Commencement could have been held in 1837, which could make this our 178th Commencement. But two factors dictate that this does not work as a simple word problem:

  • The original college did not begin to hold classes until 1838, and only freshmen and sophomores were enrolled. There was no Commencement in 1839 at the end of the college’s first year of operation. The 1st Commencement took place in 1840, but there were no graduates since the oldest of those original students were just finishing the junior year. Perhaps that one was just for practice. At Commencement in 1841, there were actual graduates. And a lot of speeches. In Greek and Latin. Outdoors. In July. Under the hot Georgia sun.
  • Counting from the first Commencement in 1840, we should be on our 175th Commencement. If we counted from the 1st Commencement with graduates, this would be the 174th. The difference between the expected 175 and the official 169 is accounted for by the years during which the college was affected by the Civil War. There was no Commencement for 1861, the school closed for the duration in 1862, did not reopen until January 1866, and did not have another Commencement until 1867. So, it really is our 169th Commencement.

Information about recent Commencements appears here:

A link to a historical essay about Commencement appears via that link as well.

[Ed. Note: This article was submitted by Ginger Smith (Library External Affairs).]

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