The graduation ceremony, rich with pageantry and tradition, offers a unique expression of university values.

The first Emory commencement was held in 1840, four years after Emory College had been chartered and two years after the college's first classes. That first ceremony, however, lacked graduating students. The first graduates came along the next year, in 1841.

The ceremony has grown and changed since those early days on what's now the Oxford College campus. These days, the university holds a central ceremony on the Quadrangle of the Atlanta campus, and each of its nine schools holds its own ceremonies to confer individual degrees.

Alma Mater

Emory's Alma Mater dates to 1918.

Alumni Legacy Medallion Graduating students who have a parent, grandparent, and/or sibling who is also an Emory graduate receive specially commissioned medallions worn with blue and gold ribbons.
Central Ceremonies

Emory University holds a central graduation ceremony on the Quadrangle of the Atlanta campus at the end of the spring semester.

The chief marshal and deputy marshals lead the academic procession. The faculty marshals and the secretary of the university jointly managing the forming of the procession, the seating of commencement participants, and the planning of other aspects of commencement exercises. Marshals wear sleeveless blue tunics, lined with gold.

The president of Emory University wears a badge of office given to the university in 1965 by the Emory chapter, Gamma of Georgia, of Phi Beta Kappa. The solid gold badge, borne on a gold chain, is an open teardrop enclosing the raised seal of the university.

Each school's student marshal carries its gonfalon, a banner in the color associated with the school's degree.

Corpus Cordis Aureum

Alumni of 50 or more years are inducted into Corpus Cordis Aureum and wear golden robes at the central ceremony.

Honorary Degrees

Individuals receiving an honorary degree have distinguished themselves in scholarship, public service, or the professions, and typically have some connection to the university.

Senior Class Reception

A pre-graduation reception ends with a traditional Coca-Cola Toast by a distinguished faculty member and a ceremonial Candlelight Crossover Ceremony to the Miller-Ward Alumni House, where seniors are greeted by alumni and Emory staff.


The university president chooses the Commencement speaker. The person is frequently awarded an honorary degree.

Early commencement audiences sat for up to four hours in the midsummer heat to listen to student and faculty orations on topics such as "Our Government Unfavorible to High Attainment in Literature," "Social Equality," and "Modern Refinements."

In 1849, all 15 members of the graduating class were assigned speaking places and took turns lasting as long as a half-hour each.

Student Honors

The Marion Luther Brittain Award, Emory's highest student honor, is presented to a graduate who has demonstrated exemplary service to both the university and the greater community without expectation of recognition.

The Lucius Lamar McMullan Award, which comes with $20,000, is given to a graduating senior who exhibits "outstanding citizenship, exceptional leadership and potential for service to his or her community, the nation and the world."

University Honors

Emory honors faculty and staff for exceptional leadership with university awards:

University Mace

The university mace is carried in the procession by the immediate past president of the Student Government Association.

Emory's mace, a gift from the Emory College senior honor society D.V.S., features several distinguishing characteristics:

  • Within a teardrop shape at the apex, a human skeleton in gold stands against a background of oxidized silver, representing Dooley, the Spirit of Emory
  • A gold sphere divided by stippling into eight segments
  • A simple cross, representing the university's relationship to the United Methodist Church
  • Within the circular base, the seal of the university in gold