Commencement is the ceremony in which WPI students receive their degrees indicating their graduation from WPI and official entrance into the community of WPI Alumni. The ceremony is organized and executed by members of the Commencement Committee.


The first WPI Commencement honored sixteen men in 1871. The 139th Commencement took place on May 19, 2007; the 140th Commencement will be held on May 17, 2008.

Numerical Commencements

There is an inconsistency in the numbers of commencements. Since the first degrees were awarded in 1871, it would make the May 2008 commencement number 138, not 140. This discrepancy is explained by the fact that here were multiple commencements per year during portions of World War II to speed the rate at which WPI graduated students.

The Ceremony

File:Commencement 2005 processional.jpg

The ceremony consists of several parts: processional, main ceremony, and recessional.

All information is described for an outdoor Commencement unless noted.


On the morning of Commencement, the degree candidates line up on the road on the South and East sides of Boynton Hall. Leading the processional is the Honorary Marshal who is the most recent recipient of the Board of Trustees' Award for Outstanding Teaching. The Honorary Marshal carries the walking stick of John Boynton. At precisely 11 a.m. the Alden carillon sounds the bells followed by the beginning of Pomp and Circumstance signifying the start of the processional. The WPI stage band continues the performance of Pomp and Circumstance throughout the processional.

Followed by the Honorary Marshal are, in order:

  • The Honorary Marshal for Graduate Degrees
  • The Colors
  • The Ceremonial Marshal
  • Undergraduate candidates for degrees
  • Graduate candidates for degrees
  • The Faculty, Administration, and Trustees

The faculty lines the sides of Earle Bridge until the degree candidates pass at which time it joins the processional. The candidates for degrees, during the processional, step on the seal on the way to their seats.

Main Ceremony

The main ceremony consists of several portions. The conferring of degrees is the longest portion of the entire ceremony. The ceremony in 2005 was slightly modified from previous years by President Berkey. The portions of the ceremony (including processional and recessional), in order of Commencement 2005, are:

Student Speaker

The student speaker at Commencement is chosen by the Baccalaureate Committee of the Senior Board. Applicants submit a speech and audition for the committee, and one speaker is chosen for the Commencement ceremony. Up to four other speakers are chosen for the Baccalaureate ceremony which is held the night prior to Commencement.

Keynote Commencement Speaker

The keynote commencement speaker is a person that gives a spoken message to the graduating class. Traditionally, the speaker is someone of importance to WPI but perhaps also of importance on a national or international level. The 2006 speaker was Curtis R. Carlson '67, WPI Trustee and CEO of SRI International. Past speakers include Dean Kamen, Robert Moses, and Ray Kurzweil. The keynote speaker traditionally receives an honorary degree at the ceremony.


The recessional is the reverse of the processional. Again led by the Honorary Marshal, the recessional leads toward Reunion Plaza. The participants are asked to remain in the recessional until they reach Reunion Plaza, but in practice many graduates leave the recessional shortly after joining to find family and friends in the crowd.

Timing and Location

File:Commencement 2005 from above.jpg

Commencement begins at 11 a.m. on the specified date, usually the third Saturday in May, with the sounding of the carillon. The ceremony is scheduled to be held on the quad, but in the event of bad weather, Harrington Auditorium is the backup site. The Board of Trustees' Spring meeting tends to coincide with Commencement so the Trustees are able to meet on Friday and participate in Commencement on Saturday. It is estimated that over 4,000 guests witness an outdoor commencement ceremony on the Quad.

Indoor Commencement

The Commencement Committee prefers to hold the ceremony outdoors in order to accommodate all guests, and it will hold the ceremony inside if and only if the weather is detrimental to the ceremony. A forecast or conditions of light rain or drizzle would likely result in an outdoor ceremony. The decision, if questionable, on where to hold Commencement is made around 4 a.m. on the day of the ceremony. An indoor Commencement can accommodate far fewer guests than an outdoor ceremony. Graduates are limited to three guests per person for an indoor ceremony, and guests not able to witness the ceremony may do so in one of several satellite locations on campus via closed circuit television.

Students Graduating in February or October

Students at WPI complete their degree requirements on a rolling basis, thus not all graduate in May. All graduates from a particular academic year are invited to participate in the May Commencement ceremony, but not all do. For those whose degrees are awarded in February or October they pick up their degrees from the Registrar's Office. If they walk at commencement in May, the leather folio they are handed is empty.


  • Commencement was held indoors most recently in 2007, and before that in 2002.
  • The stage at Commencement 2005 was on the West end of the Quad rather than the East end as it had been in years prior. This change was due to the ongoing construction of the Bartlett Center, and this location has been consistent since that ceremony.

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