A history of Finals
U.Va. Special Collections
32 years — from 1921 to 1953 — Final
Exercises were held in the McIntire Amphitheatre.
By Katherine Thompson Jackson
Mr. Jefferson, if he were here today, he might be surprised
to see thousands of graduates and visitors participating
in Final Exercises, the University’s
collective name for the various graduation activities that take place each May
in Charlottesville. (The term harks back to an era when students traditionally
hosted four large dance-party weekends on the University Grounds: Openings, Mid-Winters,
Easters, and Finals – the latter of which also included graduation festivities.)
While Jefferson’s educational blueprint for the “Academical Village” he
created in 1819 is largely unchanged, the conferring of degrees and diplomas
was not a part of his original plans for the University.
In July 1829, about 10 years after the University opened
it doors, and 15 months after Jefferson’s death, the first graduation was held in the Rotunda Dome
In 1853, an annex housing a public hall was completed on
the north side of the Rotunda, and graduation exercises
moved from the Dome Room to this
The ceremony remained simple.
By 1902, however, Cabell Hall had been built at the south
end of the Lawn, and commencement activities moved to
The academic procession, which serves as a hallmark of today’s Final Exercises,
did not begin until sometime after 1904, when Edwin Alderman became the University’s
first president. Lamenting the lack of pomp and circumstance, Alderman directed
that graduating students and faculty members — adorned in academic regalia — march
from the newly rebuilt Rotunda down the Lawn to Cabell Hall.
In 1921, the McIntire Amphitheatre was completed, and beginning
the following year, the academic procession ended there
instead of at
With the exception of the war years in the 1940s, when smaller
classes permitted commencement to be held in the Dome Room and
exercises remained at the McIntire Amphitheatre until 1953. That
year, University President Colgate W. Darden Jr., requested the
ceremony be moved outdoors
to the spacious South Lawn, where Finals continue to be held.
Today, more than 30,000 parents, guests and faculty members
watch the celebratory procession of more than 5,500 students
Lawn, where the
president confers their degrees.