History

Historic photo of a commencement ceremony

Ceremonies for graduating students — and the procedures and traditions that surround them — have changed dramatically over time and across countries. The Cal Bears of 1864 never could have imagined that the 2020 Commencement would take place in a video game! Enjoy this history of Commencement at Berkeley.

Historical Milestones

  • 1864 — The first graduates of the College of California, predecessor of the University of California, received their degrees at a Commencement held in 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.
  • 1873 — 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.
  • 1943–46 — 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.”
  • 1970 and 1990 — Due to ongoing campus unrest, the Class of 1970 had no campuswide commencement ceremony. Two decades later, in 1990, more than 200 fortysomething graduates donned black caps and gowns prior to a Cal-UCLA football game for a much delayed and deserved ceremony.
  • 1970 — 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.
  • 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.
  • 1991 — Campuswide ceremonies were restored in 1991 with a “senior celebration” — for graduating students only — at Zellerbach Hall, followed by a reception.
  • 1992–3 — No ceremonies were held in 1992, but they returned in 1993 with a commencement convocation in Zellerbach Hall 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.
  • 1972 and 2009 — 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.
  • 2001 — Recognizing that the campus did not offer a celebration for December graduates, the Alumni Scholars Club created the December Graduates Reception. In 2001, with support from the Cal Alumni Association, Chancellor’s Office, and University Development and Alumni Relations, the Californians evolved this event into what is now called Winter Commencement.
  • 2020–2022 — The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the Commencements for the classes that graduated during this time, and the campus had to reinvent the ceremony each semester according to what was feasible at that moment. The Class of 2020, for example, attended a virtual mock ceremony at Blockeley University, a fantastical recreation of the campus built by students and alums using Minecraft. The Class of 2021 participated in a five-day, in-person procession at the Greek Theatre for graduates only in which they were masked, distanced, and walked across the stage one at a time to receive a symbolic diploma and have their pictures taken. The classes of 2020-2021 celebrated graduation through official virtual ceremonies, showcasing UC Berkeley’s adaptability and innovation during the pandemic.

Historic black and white photo of a UC Berkeley graduation, circa 1916.
Commencement Speakers (1864–2000)
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
(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, above.)
1991 Leon Litwack ’51, MA ’52, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Professor of History and Distinguished Teaching Award Winner
1992 No campuswide ceremony (See historical milestones, above.)
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
Commencement Speakers (2001–present)
Spring 2001 Janet Reno, former United States Attorney General
Winter 2001 Peter Chernin ’73, Chairman and CEO of The Chernin Group
Spring 2002 Johnny Moseley, Olympic Gold Medalist
Winter 2002 Lieutenant Colonel Rex J. Walheim ’84, NASA Astronaut
Spring 2003 Leon Panetta, former White House Chief of Staff, United States Congressman from California
Winter 2003 George A. Akerlof, Winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences and Professor of Economics
Spring 2004 Ted Koppel, ABC News Anchor
Winter 2004 The Honorable Edmund G. Brown, Jr. ’61, Mayor of the City of Oakland and Former Governor of California
Spring 2005 Benjamin Barber, Political Theorist
Winter 2005 John Cho ’96, Actor
Spring 2006 Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor
Winter 2006 Wayne Lee ’90, Chief Engineer, Mars Exploration Rover Landing System
Spring 2007 Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor
Winter 2007 Jody Lewen Ph.D. ’02, Director of the Patten University Extension Site at San Quentin State Prison
Spring 2008 Craig Newmark, Founder, Craigslist
Winter 2008 Mimi Silbert M.A. ’65, D.Crim. ’68, Chairman of the Board and CEO, Delancey Street Foundation
Spring 2009 Christopher Gardner, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
Winter 2009 The Honorable Norman Y. Mineta ’53, Vice Chairman, Hill & Knowlton, Inc. and Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation
Spring 2010 Tiffany Shlain ’92, Founder, Webby Awards
Winter 2010 Joseph Letteri ’81, Senior Visual Effects Supervisor, Weta Digital
Spring 2011 Paul Jacobs MS ’79, PhD ’82, CEO, Qualcomm
Winter 2011 John Scharffenberger ’73, Founder, Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker and Scharffenberger Cellars and CEO, Hodo Soy Beanery
Spring 2012 Eric Schmidt M.S. ’79, Ph.D. ’82, Executive Chairman, Google
Winter 2012 Maz Jobrani ’93, Comedian
Spring 2013 Steve Wozniak ’86, Co-Founder, Apple Inc. and Chief Scientist, Fusion-io
Winter 2013 Dr. Randy Schekman, Winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology
Spring 2014 Nancy Pelosi, United States Congresswoman from California
Winter 2014 Bill Maher, Host of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” and Author
Spring 2015 Marc Benioff, CEO, Salesforce
Winter 2015 Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy
Spring 2016 Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook and Founder, Leanin.org
Winter 2016 Dana Vollmer ’10, Olympic Gold Medalist
Spring 2017 Maz Jobrani ’93, Comedian
Winter 2017 Carol T. Christ, Chancellor
Spring 2018 Carol T. Christ, Chancellor
Winter 2018 Nathan Adrian ’12, Olympic Gold Medalist
Spring 2019 Wendy Kopp, Founder, Teach for All
Winter 2019 Bob Haas ’64, Chairman Emeritus, Levi Strauss & Company
Spring 2020 Carol T. Christ, Chancellor
Winter 2020 Congresswoman Barbara Lee M.S.W. ’75
Spring 2021 Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo ’04, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of the Treasury
Winter 2021 Carol T. Christ, Chancellor
Spring 2022 Dr. Randy Schekman, Winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology
Winter 2022 Poulomi Saha, Associate Professor of English
Spring 2023 Steve Wozniak ’86, Co-Founder, Apple Inc.
Winter 2023 Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna, Winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair and a Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular and Cell Biology