Time warp: Georgetown has been miscounting Commencements for at least 77 years

The 210th 192nd Georgetown College Commencement ceremony

Newly minted College grads were probably congratulated a few dozen times on being the 210th graduating class. It’s a nice sentiment, but, unfortunately, it’s not factually accurate. The problem is that the University’s been miscounting the number of graduating classes for at least 77 years.

Georgetown history buff Matt Stoller (COL ’08) caught onto the fact that Commencements used to be dated from 1817, the year Georgetown first awarded degrees under the power granted to it by Congress in 1815. At some point, though, the dating of Commencement was set back to 1799, the year the first college course was established, making this year the 210th Commencement.

Stoller asked about the inconsistency and his inquiry made it all the way up to John Glavin, Director of the Gervase Programs, and John Q. Pierce, the University Registrar. Glavin verified Stoller’s guess that this year was the 192nd—not the 210th—Commencement.

Check out Glavin’s response and an estimate of when the error was made, after the jump!

Matt Stoller is absolutely right. Coleman Nevils, in Miniatures of Georgetown, one of the key sources for early history says (p.79) that the first commencement was held in 1817 –two Bachelors’ degrees, an immense crowd, and a band. So we have just held the 192nd commencement. We should look into getting the numbers right from now on.

So how long has the miscalculation been going on for? Quite a while. A Washington Post article from 1907 calls that year’s Commencement the 90th (indicating the 1817 start date), but a New York Times piece from 1932 says it will be the 133rd ceremony (indicating the 1799 start date).

So, somewhere in that 25 year window the switch was made. Stoller said he’d wager it was under the presidency of Coleman Nevil, S.J. (1928-35), the man who tried to push Georgetown’s founding date back from 1789 to 1634.

Major props to Stoller for his superb sleuthing in catching this at least 77 year-old error!

2 Comments on “Time warp: Georgetown has been miscounting Commencements for at least 77 years

  1. Strangely enough, marking 1799 as the first college course seems to be a mistake that Nevils may have caught from James Easby-Smith, who wrote a book on Georgetown’s history from 1789-1907, or other sources.

    While Fr. Neale, the fourth President, became President in 1799, he was only able to get the full college course officially approved on July 27, 1801 for the following year. “Georgetown thus had its full curriculum of study,” writes John Gilmary Shea in Memorial of the First Cetenary, “and could justly bear the name of college.” Thus, the earliest date for commencement could still be only 1801 (I still can’t find out if the class actually graduated then, but as they were referred to as the ‘senior class of 1801′ it’s possible they did).

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