Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1996-1997 index

Distributed May 7, 1997
Contact: Mark Nickel

Commencement 1997: An Overview

Brown University to hold 229th Commencement Monday, May 26, 1997

Chief Marshal Charles Watts '47 will lead more than 6,000 people down College Hill on Monday, May 26, forming one of the nation's largest and most colorful academic pageants. The Commencement procession and 229th academic exercises - Vartan Gregorian's ninth and final Commencement as president - cap a four-day Commencement and Reunion Weekend at Brown. (A schedule of events is attached.)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- More than 6,000 graduates, alumni, faculty, parent educators and University guests will march down College Hill on Monday morning, May 26, 1997. Their mile-long procession, accompanied by an entourage of bagpipers, highland drummers, television cameras and marching bands, will mark the beginning of Brown University's 229th Commencement exercises.

The ceremonial Van Wickle Gates, which opened inward to admit the Class of 1997 four years ago, will swing outward for the graduates' symbolic march into the world beyond campus. This year the gates will also swing outward for Vartan Gregorian, Brown's 16th president, who will be presiding at his ninth and final Commencement. Gregorian will become president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York in July.

Chief marshal for the procession, one of the largest and most colorful academic pageants in the nation, will be Charles Henry Watts II '47, former president of Bucknell University, now a business and educational consultant in Boston.

By approximately 11:15, more than 20,000 people will have found their way to The College Green for the ritual conferral of degrees by the president and chancellor. Three separate convocations will precede the University ceremony:

In all, Gregorian will deliver formal Latin salutations to more than 1,400 baccalaureate candidates, nearly 400 candidates for advanced degrees and 10 recipients of honorary degrees. Flags from more than 50 nations, representing the homelands of the Class of 1997, will be flown during the University ceremony. The University provides 16,000 folding chairs for graduates and their guests, but Commencement is usually a standing-room-only event.

Because the baccalaureate graduating class fills the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church to capacity, parents and friends of the graduates traditionally gather on The College Green to listen to a broadcast of the undergraduate ceremony. For the second year, the University will provide a video simulcast on a 14-by-22-foot "Jumbotron" video screen. The video unit will arrive on The College Green in time to provide parents and guests with simulcasts of several Commencement Weekend events, including the Baccalaureate Service on Sunday afternoon. The large screen will be available for parents and guests in Meehan Auditorium in case of rain on Monday.


By long tradition, Brown does not invite a "main" speaker to deliver a Commencement address, but asks a number of individuals, including students, to contribute remarks at the various Commencement convocations. This year's speakers will include:

Departmental ceremonies

Receiving an undergraduate degree at Brown involves a three-step process. First, during ceremonies at the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America, President Gregorian will present candidates for the bachelor's degree to members of the Corporation, who will authorize him to confer the degrees. Second, during ceremonies on The College Green, Gregorian will confer all the degrees symbolically by presenting the degree to one representative of each degree. He will also exhort the graduates in Latin. Third, individual graduates will receive their diplomas during departmental ceremonies held at various locations on and off campus at the conclusion of the University ceremony, about 12:30 p.m. A listing of sites for these ceremonies is included in the Commencement program, distributed on campus Commencement morning.

Rain Plan

If Monday is damp or drizzly, outdoor activities proceed as scheduled. If a full-scale downpour begins, yellow pennants will be flown around campus, indicating that the rain plan is in effect. In that event, Commencement ceremonies scheduled for The College Green will take place at the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America, and the departmental ceremonies will move to rain plan sites listed in the Commencement program. Guests of undergraduates may view a large-screen video simulcast of the ceremonies at Meehan Auditorium.


More than 4,000 Brown alumni, alumnae, friends and family will return to the campus to participate in several days of celebration which surround Commencement. Further information on reunion activities is available from the Commencement/Reunion hotline: 401/863-7000.

The Commencement/Reunion Schedule

For directions to the Brown University campus, dial 401/863-1600.

Friday, May 23

Saturday, May 24

Sunday, May 25

Monday, May 26