Brown’s 249th Commencement set for Sunday, May 28

Sunday’s procession and University Ceremony on the College Green cap Brown’s three-day celebration of Commencement and Reunion Weekend.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown President Christina Paxson will preside over the University’s 249th Commencement on Sunday, May 28, on the College Green. The ceremony concludes Brown’s three-day Commencement and Reunion Weekend, which will bring more than 10,000 people to College Hill.

Brown Commencements have been major events for University guests and Providence residents since the 18th century — many events and exhibitions on Saturday, May 27, and Sunday, May 28, are open to the public. A summary of the weekend’s main events follows here, and additional information and updates are available on the 2017 Commencement website.

Many of the weekend’s Commencement events — including the Baccalaureate Service on Saturday, the procession on Sunday and both the College and University ceremonies on Sunday — will be streamed live on the web via Brown's Live Webcast page.

This year, for the first time, graduates and attendees can download a smartphone app with complete information on how to navigate campus during a weekend packed with events.

News Media Access and Credentials

University-issued media credentials are required for access to the procession route, Van Wickle Gates, media platform and student seating area at the University Ceremony. Media credentials will be reserved exclusively for journalists working on assignment for credentialed professional news organizations. Space is limited and the University may limit the total number of credentials awarded.

Members of the media must request credentials by 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 25. Contact news clerk Jose Garcia at [email protected] or (401) 863-5450. Please include the professional news organization’s name along with the journalist’s name, telephone number and email address. For requests that are granted, credentials will be made available for pickup at the Office of University Communications at 71 George Street in Providence.

Throughout the Weekend

Class Reunions

Brown schedules class reunions and Commencement on the same weekend. The concurrent scheduling allows alumni to welcome graduating seniors into the fold while also celebrating their lifelong connection to the University. Scheduled activities include receptions, forums, an alumni family field day and prominent participation in the Commencement procession down College Hill. And, of course, Campus Dance (tickets required) — one of Brown’s best-loved traditions, the event brings more than 10,000 people to dance the night away on Friday under a sky lit with some 600 paper lanterns; the annual Senior Sing happens at midnight on the steps of Sayles Hall.


Brown’s museums and galleries are open to University guests and the general public during Commencement Weekend. Among the exhibitions on display:

Saturday, May 27

Commencement Forums

A Commencement Weekend tradition for more than four decades, the Commencement Forums include lectures, discussions and performances by faculty, alumni and guests who are nationally recognized authorities in their fields — with plenty of opportunity for audience questions and comments. All of this year’s forums (18 in total) address timely issues on topics that range from a conversation with legendary actor Robert De Niro to panels on data science, American dance, health care policy, Mars explorations and more. Saturday’s forums begin at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. and at 12:30, 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. Full details and schedules are here. A sampling:

  • “How Structural Racism Works” — Tricia Rose, director of Brown’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, will examine the nature of structural racism, how it works in society and why it seems obvious to some and invisible to others.
  • “The Jazz of Physics: The Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe” — Professor of Physics Stephon Alexander will explore the interconnection between music and the evolution of astrophysics and the laws of motion.
  • “Launchers and Leaders: Brown Women and Entrepreneurship” — Panelists will explore what entrepreneurship means to women in today’s world.
  • “R.I. Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project” — Faculty from Brown’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice will join community partners to share details on a grassroots project that seeks to acknowledge the history of the transatlantic human trade in port cities in Rhode Island and beyond.
  • “A Poem / Like Trying / to Remember, is a Movement / of the Whole Body” — Poet Rosemarie Waldrop, who will receive a 2017 honorary degree from Brown, will read from her work, including “Gap Gardening: Selected Poems,” which landed her the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in poetry this year.
  • “A Conversation with Robert De Niro” — The chair of Brown’s Department of Modern Culture and Media will moderate a discussion with the acclaimed actor and director, who will be presented with an honorary doctorate of fine arts the following day at the University Ceremony.

Baccalaureate Service

2:30 p.m. | Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America

Brown’s Baccalaureate tradition derives from the immense range of religious, ethnic, geographic, linguistic and musical traditions present within the campus community. The ceremony includes rituals, readings, poetry and prayers from Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Native American, animist and other religious and cultural traditions, as well as dancing, choral and instrumental music, a Chinese lion dance, and Taiko and Senegalese drumming. Because the Meeting House can accommodate only the graduating class, the service will be simulcast for family and friends, who can watch it on the College Green and in the Salomon Center for Teaching. This year’s Baccalaureate address will be delivered by performer, rapper and writer Daveed Diggs, a 2004 graduate of Brown University who will receive an honorary degree on Sunday.

Military Commissioning and Graduating Veterans Ceremony

4:30 p.m. | The Front Green

Marcos Aranda, a Class of 2013 Brown undergraduate alumnus who will receive his M.D. this year from Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School, will be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army.

The ceremony will also honor 14 veterans of the U.S. military who are receiving Brown degrees in 2017: Michael Aaronson, Christopher Baker, Pamela Bower, Bryce Celotto, Laura Gallant, Carlos Gomez, Benjamin Gormley, Alexis Green, Carlos Harris, Stephanie Kerr, Nicholas Rahall, Bryan Rippee, Sabrina Uribe Ruggiero and Michael Zaskey.

A reception will follow the ceremony in the same location.


8:10 p.m. | Downtown Providence

Waterfire, a celebrated work of public art brought to life by 1975 Brown graduate Barnaby Evans, will ignite a line of bonfires atop Providence’s downtown rivers.

Sunday, May 28

Commencement Procession

9:45 a.m. | The Van Wickle Gates

The University’s ceremonial Van Wickle Gates open for only two reasons: when new students enter campus to begin their studies and when new graduates depart for the world beyond Brown. The procession begins at 9:45 a.m. at the Van Wickle Gates. In order to accommodate graduates, families and friends who wish to take photographs, the Van Wickle Gates will remain open until 6 p.m. on Monday, May 29.

Alpert Medical School Ceremony

10:15 a.m. | First Unitarian Church

Dr. Jack A. Elias, senior vice president for health affairs and dean of medicine and biological sciences, will preside over the ceremony and will administer the Physician’s Oath, a version of the Hippocratic Oath prepared by the M.D. Class of 1975, the school’s first graduating class. This year’s graduating class, the largest ever with 121 degree recipients, will begin their practices with residency training. The ceremony will feature two addresses:

  • Richard Dollase, director of the school’s Office of Medical Education, will deliver the faculty address, titled “A Community of Hands (from Langston Hughes’ ‘Freedom’s Plow’).”
  • Three members of the M.D. Class of 2017 — Marcos Aranda, Dorothy Liu and Kunal Sindhu — will present the student address, titled “It Takes a Village.”

Doctoral Ceremony

10:15 a.m. | Ruth J. Simmons Quadrangle

Andrew Campbell, completing his inaugural year as dean of the Graduate School, will preside, joined by Brown Corporation member Maria T. Zuber, who earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Brown in 1983 and 1986, respectively. Highlights of the ceremony include:

  • Presentation of the Horace Mann Medal to Guido W. Imbens, a 1991 Brown Ph.D. recipient and influential econometrician who teaches at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Established in 2003 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Graduate School and to honor the famous educator, an 1819 Brown graduate, the Horace Mann Medal is awarded to Brown graduate who has made significant contributions in their field.
  • The doctoral student address will be delivered by Alexandria Volkening, who will receive her Ph.D. in applied mathematics. Volkening was selected as the speaker by the Graduate Student Council. 
  • Presentation of Joukowsky Family Foundation Outstanding Dissertation Awards to Ph.D. candidates Kenneth Ascher, mathematics; Matthew Hirakawa, pathobiology; Liise Lehtsalu, history; and Nicosia Shakes, Africana studies.

Master’s Ceremony

10:30 a.m. | Pembroke Field

Shayna Kessel, associate dean of the Graduate School, will preside, joined by Deputy Provost Joseph S. Meisel along with representatives of the schools of engineering, public health and professional studies. Highlights of the ceremony include:

  • The master’s student address will be delivered by Anuoluwapo Osideko, who will receive her master of public affairs degree. Osideko was selected as the speaker by the Graduate Student Council.
  • Awarding of three Master’s Awards for: (1) Academic Accomplishment: Léo Kadota, molecular biology, cell biology and biochemistry; (2) Professional Excellence: Dr. Lwabanyz Marx, executive master’s in health care leadership; (3) Engaged Citizenship and Community Service: Katie Vogel, public humanities.
  • The Graduate Student Council will award Shontay Delalue, Brown’s assistant provost for global engagement, and Robyn Schroeder, a postdoctoral fellow and director of graduate studies in public humanities, as staff members who make a different for graduate students.

College Ceremony

12:15 p.m. | Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America

Since 1776, all but two Brown University Commencements have been held at the Meeting House. In 2006, when the graduating senior class had grown too large to be safely accommodated, the students voted to preserve the tradition by holding a portion of the Commencement ceremony on the church grounds. President Christina Paxson will greet the class, deliver remarks and confer bachelor degrees on the church grounds. The ceremony will be live-streamed for family and friends to view via screens on the College Green and in the Salomon Center for Teaching.

University Ceremony

1:15 p.m. | The College Green

Graduating seniors march back up College Hill to the College Green, where they join family members, friends and guests for the University ceremony, which includes:

Senior Orators

Since its founding in 1764, Brown has selected members of the graduating class to speak during the Commencement ceremony. Two members of the Class of 2017 were chosen by a committee of students, faculty and administrators to deliver orations at Commencement:

  • Adriel Barrios-Anderson, a neuroscience and science and society double-concentrator from Houston, Texas, will deliver an oration titled “Silent Lessons.”
  • Viet Nguyen, an education concentrator from Mountain View, Calif., will deliver an oration titled “The Idea of Deserving.”

Honorary Degrees

Honorary degrees are awarded by the Board of Fellows of the Brown Corporation and conferred by the University president — in English and in Latin — on the College Green. The University will honor six candidates who have achieved great distinction in their fields:

Awarding of Diplomas

2:30 | Various locations

Graduating seniors receive their diplomas at more than 50 departmental ceremonies immediately following the University ceremony. Location information, including a map and key, is printed in the Commencement program, which will be available online on Sunday morning.