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Libraries & Spaces


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Who delivered our first commencement address?

Our first degrees, B.A.'s to brothers Charles and George Dinnies from New York, were awarded in 1817. A number of students spoke at the 1817 commencement, which was more a public demonstration of the students' oratorical ability than the kind of ceremony we would expect today. Charles was the salutatorian and, according to the program, the first to speak. George, the valedictorian, also spoke. The program lists no non-students as speaking. The same format was followed until 1831, when Daniel J. Desmond, a diplomat and a lawyer from Philadelphia, was invited to deliver the first annual Philodemic address. Mr. Desmond received a master's degree from the University in 1831, but it seems likely that this was an honorary degree, as he had been admitted to the Philadelphia bar in 1818 and there is no record in the Archives to suggest that he actually attended classes here. If so, he would seem to be our first "external" commencement speaker.