Historical Milestones

  • The first graduates of the College of California, predecessor of the University of California, received their degrees at a commencement held June 1864 at the Presbyterian Church in Oakland. Highlights included an address by California Senator Newton Booth and the reading of Daphne, a poem composed for the occasion by Bret Harte.
  • On July 16, 1873, campuswide commencement ceremonies began in Berkeley. The exercises were held in the large hall of North College and, again, Newton Booth (now governor) gave an address.
  • During a portion of World War II, 1943–46, the university maintained an accelerated program of three terms yearly. Exercises held at the end of each term were known as “graduation convocations.”
  • Due to ongoing campus unrest, the Class of 1970 had no campuswide commencement ceremony; two decades later, in 1990, the Class of ’70 finally received its graduation ceremony when more than 200 fortysomething graduates donned black caps and gowns prior to a Cal-UCLA football game.
  • As a result of the suspension of campuswide commencement, departments began holding their own graduation ceremonies in 1970, a practice that continues to this day.
  • For 1970, a list in the University Archives includes a total of 39 ceremonies, including a Chicano Independent Commencement that took place on June 16, 1970 — likely the beginning of affinity group graduations as well.
  • Campuswide ceremonies were restored in 1991 with a “senior celebration” — for graduating students only — at Zellerbach Hall, followed by a reception.
  • No ceremonies were held in 1992, but returned in 1993 with a commencement convocation in Zellerbach similar in format to the campuswide exercises we see today; Jerry Brown ’61 (then between his second term as governor and first as mayor of Oakland) gave the keynote address.
  • The University of California, Berkeley stopped conferring honorary degrees on commencement speakers — and everyone else — in 1972. There has been only one exception to that rule since: in 2009, the campus honored 42 former Cal students of Japanese descent. They received the degrees they had been working toward nearly seven decades before, when Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II. Read more about it here.
  • Today the campus confers more than 7,000 degrees a year, and the number of graduates who registered for the May 2016 ceremony was over 4,700.

Commencement Speakers

1864 Newton Booth, California State Senator
1865 Rev. Henry Durant, Professor of Latin and Greek Languages
1866 Rev. Henry Durant, Professor of Latin and Greek Languages
Rev. Horatio Stebbins, Pastor, First Unitarian Church, San Francisco
1867 Benjamin Silliman, Professor of Chemistry, Yale University
1868 Rev. Joseph A. Benton, Pastor, Second Congregational Church, San Francisco
1869 Rev. Eli Corwin
1870 John LeConte, Acting President, University of California
1871 Henry H. Haight, Governor of California
1872 Rev. W.A. Scott, Pastor, Calvary Presbyterian Church
1873–74    Daniel C. Gilman, President, University of California
1875–79 John LeConte, President, University of California
1880 John LeConte, President, University of California
Joseph W. Winans, Regent, University of California
1881 John LeConte, President, University of California
  Bishop E.O. Haven, former President, University of Michigan
1882 Rev. Charles D. Barrows, Pastor, First Congressional Church, San Francisco
1883 Arthur Rodgers '74, Regent, University of California
1884 C.C. Stratton, President, University of the Pacific
1885 Rev. Robert Mackenzie, Pastor, Howard Presbyterian Church, San Francisco
1886 Edward S. Holden, President, University of California
1887 John F. Swift, Regent, the University of California
1888 Joseph Le Conte, Professor of Geology and Natural History
1889 Thomas F. Barry ’74
Horace Davis, President, University of California
1890 Rev. A.C. Hirst, President, University of California
1891 Rev. William F. Nichols, Bishop, Episcopal Church in California
1892 Martin Kellogg, Acting President, University of California
1893 Martin Kellogg, President, University of California
1894 James H. Baker, President, University of Colorado
1895–97 Martin Kellogg, President, University of California
1898 Edmund J. James, Professor of Public Administration
1899 Martin Kellogg, President, University of California
1900 Benjamin Ide Wheeler, President, University of California
1901 John Jay, Secretary of State of the United States (Please note: President William McKinley, who was scheduled to speak at the graduation, was unable to attend due to the sudden, critical illness of his wife.)
1902 Benjamin Ide Wheeler, President, University of California
1903 Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States
1904–19 Benjamin Ide Wheeler, President, University of California
1920–23 David Prescott Barrows, President, University of California
1924–30 William Wallace Campbell, President, University of California
1931–32 Robert Gordon Sproul, President, University of California
1933 Charles B. Lipman, Dean of the Graduate Division
Robert Gordon Sproul, President, University of California
1934 Monroe E. Deutsch, Vice President and Provost, University of California
Robert Gordon Sproul, President, University of California
1935 Sir Joseph Stamp, Director, London School of Economics
Robert Gordon Sproul, President, University of California
1936–44 Robert Gordon Sproul, President, University of California
1945 Monroe E. Deutsch, Vice President and Provost, University of California
1946–47 Robert Gordon Sproul, President, University of California
1948 Harry S. Truman, President of the United States
1949 Robert Gordon Sproul, President, University of California
1950 Ralph J. Bunche, Director, Department of Trusteeship, United Nations
1951–58 Robert Gordon Sproul, President, University of California
1959–61 Clark Kerr, President, University of California
1962 Edward W. Strong, Chancellor
1963 Robert Gordon Sproul, President Emeritus, University of California
1964 Donald H. McLaughlin '14, Regent, University of California
1965–66 Clark Kerr, President, University of California
1967 Harry R. Wellman, Acting President, University of California
1968 Charles J. Hitch, President, University of California
1969 John W. Oswald, Executive Vice President, University of California
1970­–90 No campuswide ceremony (See historical milestones.)
1991 Leon Litwack '51, MA '52, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Professor of History and Distinguished Teaching Award Winner
1992 No campuswide ceremony (See historical milestones.)
1993 The Honorable Edmund G. Brown, Jr. '61, Governor
1994 Oliver Stone, Screenwriter, Director, Producer
1995 Robert Reich, United States Secretary of Labor
1996 Pedro Noguera, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Division of Social and Cultural Studies, Graduate School of Education
1997 Bill Cosby, Comedian, Actor
1998 Steve Wozniak '86, Cofounder, Apple Computers
1999 Terry McMillan '79, Author
2000 Madeline Albright, United States Secretary of State
2001 Janet Reno, former United States Attorney General
2002 Johnny Moseley, Olympic Gold Medalist
2003 Leon Panetta, former White House Chief of Staff, United States Congressman from California
2004 Ted Koppel, ABC News Anchor
2005 Benjamin Barber, Political Theorist
2006–07 Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor
2008 Craig Newmark, Founder, Craigslist
2009 Christopher Gardner, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
2010 Tiffany Shlain '92, Founder, Webby Awards
2011 Paul Jacobs MS '79, PhD '82, CEO, Qualcomm
2012 Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google
2013 Steve Wozniak '86, Co-Founder, Apple Inc. and Chief Scientist, Fusion-io
2014 Nancy Pelosi, United States Congresswoman from California
2015 Marc Benioff, CEO, Salesforce
2016 Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook and Founder, Leanin.org