The Bucky List: Five Shifts in Commencement History

From Armory Hall (now the Red Gym) to Bascom Hill, University of Wisconsin commencement ceremonies have taken place in various locations and have certainly changed over time. With the help of David Null, former director of the UW-Madison Archives located in Steenbock Library, we took a look at commencement through the years.


On June 22, 1925, more than 2,000 degree candidates attended the first commencement in Camp Randall Stadium, where President Edward A. Birge delivered an address — his last official appearance after 50 years of service to the UW, according to the 1927 edition of the Badger yearbook. A year prior, commencement had been held in the Stock Pavilion.


The UW’s first commencement occurred on July 26, 1854, in the old Baptist church — which was filled with townspeople, but not as many as expected, according to an archived Wisconsin State Journal article from 1955. The ceremony had just two graduates: Levi Booth and Charles Wakeley.

1965 and 1972

Both January 23, 1965, and December 17, 1972, were monumental days in the UW’s commencement history. In January 1965, the university held its first midyear commencement. Then its date was moved to December in 1972 to reflect changes in the UW calendar. Both ceremonies took place in the Wisconsin Field House.


The UW split commencement for the first time in 1985. Two ceremonies took place: one for undergraduate degrees on Sunday, May 19, at Camp Randall Stadium, and another for graduate and professional degrees on Saturday, May 18, in the Wisconsin Field House, says a 1985 UW press release.


After holding both winter and spring commencements in the Kohl Center for years, the spring ceremony returned to Camp Randall Stadium on May 17, 2014. Today spring commencements continue to be held in Camp Randall, and winter commencements are held (on chilly December Sundays) in the Kohl Center.