Commencement History

In 2020, New York University will celebrate its 188th Commencement Exercises. Since the University’s first graduation exercises in 1833, Commencement has grown from three students to over 16,000 each year.

Commencement exercises have been held at University Heights (NYU’s Bronx campus that operated from 1894-1973), landmark New York institutions including Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden, and in Washington Square Park from 1976 to 2007.

In 2008, as Washington Square Park began a multiyear renovation, the University held its commencement exercises at another fabled location and celebrated New York site—Yankee Stadium. NYU is proud to have held the first and only commencement in “The House That Ruth Built” and, as of 2009, in the current Yankee Stadium.

Academic Regalia

The caps, gowns, and hoods worn at Commencement are patterned after the attire of monks and students in the Middle Ages.

Bachelor’s degree recipients wear a gown with pleated front, intricate shirring across the shoulders and back, and long pointed sleeves. The master’s degree gown is similar, but the sleeve is square and closed at the end. Bachelor’s and master’s degree recipients wear the traditional square mortarboard with black tassel.

Doctoral gowns have velvet panels down the front and three velvet bars on the sleeves. The velvet may be black or the color of the field of learning represented by the degree. Doctoral recipients also wear the NYU octagonal cap of black velvet with gold tassel. Much of the color and meaning of the attire is found in the master's and doctoral hoods. These are lined with silk in the color(s) of the institution conferring the degree and have a velvet border in the color signifying the field of learning.

The Ceremony of the Torch

The silver torch, designed by Tiffany & Company, was given to the University in 1911 by Miss Helen Miller Gould. The torch symbolizes “academic purpose and authority.” It has become a tradition for a senior member of the faculty to carry the torch in the commencement procession. The first passing of the torch to the youngest graduate took place in 1938. The practice prevailed until the commencement of 1944 when the torch was passed to a returning veteran of World War II. The ceremony was abandoned as of the commencement of 1953 and was reinstated nine years later.  

Recent Ceremony Highlights