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Boston College Commencement materials

Collection BC-1988-027: Boston College Commencement materials


  • Creation: 1877 - 2019
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1960 - 1999

Scope and Contents

This collection consists photographs and printed materials from Boston College Commencement ceremonies.

Photographs are of individuals and groups of graduates and attendees, starting with the very first commencement ceremony in 1877. Materials include contact sheets, photographic prints, and slides. Subjects include commencement speakers, graduates, honorary degree recipients, and special guests. Some notable figures are Tom Brokaw, George Bush, Cardinal Richard J. Cushing, Seamus Heaney, Ted Kennedy, John LaFarge, Janet Reno, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Printed materials are largely composed of programs, but also include invitations, honorary degree recipient listings, and some commencement addresses.


Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research; a portion is available digitally.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Historical note

Boston College opened on Harrison Avenue in Boston’s South End neighborhood in 1863, welcoming its first students in September, 1864. The curriculum covered a traditional Classical education, including English, Latin and Greek, Arithmetic, Logic, Poetry, and Philosophy, and was designed to last seven years. The first Boston College Commencement was held over the course of three days, June 26-28, 1877, and culminated in a graduation ceremony for the College’s first nine graduates on the final day. It was attended by then Massachusetts Governor Alexander H. Rice, and the degrees were conferred by the first Archbishop of Boston, John Joseph Williams. Other events included a demonstration of “Bell’s telephone,” a student-performed Latin play entitled “Philedonus,” and a student debate to determine the best form of government.

The opening of the University’s new campus in Chestnut Hill occurred in the spring semester of 1913, which enabled the first commencement ceremonies to be held there that year. Three days of exercises, June 15-17, concluded with seventy-nine candidates receiving their degrees, with an honorary doctorate of law going to a previous graduate, Joseph Pelletier, who also gave the address.

While initially a men's college, there is nevertheless a long history of women receiving degrees at Boston College's commencement ceremonies. The first honorary degree to a woman went to Mary Mellyn in 1925, and it was the following year that the first two female students received their degrees. Olivia Catherine Penell and Margaret Ursula Magrath were granted Master of Arts degrees in June 1926. The School of Social Work admitted women from its inception in 1936, granting degrees to its first female graduates in 1938. The Law School began admitting women in 1941, and the School of Nursing gave out its first Bachelor of Science degrees in June 1949. In 1952, the School of Education began admitting women as well, and, although the College of Arts and Sciences did not become fully co-educational until 1970, six honors program bachelor of arts degrees – the first for any women at the College – were awarded at the commencement ceremonies in June of 1963.

Every year during commencement ceremonies, a number of honorary degrees are awarded. Notable recipients include John Kenneth Galbraith (1967), Northrop Frye (1972), Maya Angelou (1983), Tom Brokaw (1990), Condoleeza Rice (2006), and John Kerry (2014).


Donovan, Charles F., David R. Dunigan, and Paul A. Fitzgerald. History of Boston College: From the Beginnings to 1990. Chestnut Hill, Mass.: University Press of Boston College, 1990. Pp. 75-76, 130.

Doona, Mary Ellen. Boston College School of Nursing 1947-1987. Chestnut Hill, Mass.: University Press of Boston College, 1987.

Matthews, Rebecca and Jessica Greene, eds. Boston College Fact Book 2013-2014. Chestnut Hill, Mass.: University Press of Boston College, 2014.


16.25 Linear Feet (34 containers)

Language of Materials



This collection consists of individual and group photographs of graduates and attendees of Boston College Commencement ceremonies, as well as program materials. The collection includes contact sheets, photographs, printed ephemera, and slides.


This collection is organized into two series: Photographs and Printed materials. Folders within series are arranged chronologically, then alphabetically, by subject matter within each year.


Materials received before January 1986. Subsequent accruals have been received from various Boston College offices. Accruals are expected.

Existence of Digital Copies

Portions of this collection are available digitally. Links are included in the inventory.

Related Materials

Boston College alumni photographs, BC.1999.056, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Boston College athletic photographs, BC.1986.019, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Boston College athletic programs, BC.1997.006, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Boston College faculty and staff photographs, BC.2000.005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Boston College special guests and events photographs, BC.1986.032, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Processing Information

These materials have not been examined to verify identification or dates. Materials are minimally processed.

Boston College Commencement materials
1877-2019 (bulk 1960-1999)
Richard Ford Burley and Ayoola White in 2015; updated by Elizabeth Carron
January 2020
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States