The ticket for the first Cornell Commencement held in downtown Ithaca, at the Cornell Public Library built by Ezra Cornell, which no longer exists.

Exhibit showcases Cornell’s first Commencement, graduates

At Cornell’s first Commencement, July 1, 1869, President Andrew Dickson White handed out diplomas in alphabetical order to eight students, thus entering George F. Behringer into the history books as Cornell’s first graduate.

An installation view of one of the exhibit’s glass display cases and a projection of George F. Behringer’s portrait.

Behringer’s diploma comes full circle 150 years later as the centerpiece of “Cornell Commences,” an exhibit at Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC) that opened this week to coincide with Commencement weekend.

Archival materials related to the first Commencement and the Class of 1869 are on display. The schedule of exercises, the ticket, photographic portraits of the graduates, news articles, the class yearbook and other ephemera hold their place alongside the diploma donated to the Cornell University Archives in 1955 by Behringer’s granddaughter, Edna Schoonover ’30.

“Cornell Commences” also outlines the biographies of the eight graduates, who all went on to forge illustrious careers – from governor to pastor, newspaper editor to diplomat.

As the university community honors the 5,500 students expected to receive their degrees this weekend, RMC will hold an open house Saturday, May 25, 1-4:30 p.m. on level 2B of Kroch Library. Curators Evan Fay Earle and Lance Heidig will host the event and provide information about the first graduation and the small group of original Cornellians, once celebrated by local newspaper The Ithacan as “the immortal eight who are the firstborn of Cornell.”

Supported by the Stephen E. ’58, MBA ’59 and Evalyn Edwards ’60 Milman Exhibition Fund, “Cornell Commences” runs through Sept. 13.

– Jose Beduya

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli