A Step into the Unknown Commencement at Tufts University

Alumni Weekend

The annual Alumni Weekend provides an opportunity for alumni to return to campus for the days prior to Commencement. Long-standing traditions include Tufts Night at the Pops, a tradition since 1901.

The presence of alumni festivities at Commencement dates back to the early days of Tufts.

Among the early customs of the Association was listening on the afternoon of Commencement Day to a formal oration and a poem, both delivered by members of the Association selected a year in advance, with alternates provided. Between 1865 and 1880 the alumni exercises were held every other year, the program being presented in alternate years by the Mathetican Society, the campus literary and debating club. For several years after 1880 the alumni program came annually, and in 1891 it was merged with the alumni dinner, usually held in a Boston hotel. The poems and orations gave way at the same time to after-dinner speeches. The alumni were also represented for many years at the Commencement dinner held by the College for the graduating class, their families, and officers and friends of the College. It was President Capen who in 1882 concentrated all of the academic ceremonies of the various departments on one day, so that Commencement was made more impressive for the increasing number of graduates returning each year.[46] Until the practice was abandoned in 1885, one alumnus was selected by either the president of the College or the Trustees from several candidates suggested by the Association to deliver a speech on behalf of the alumni. It was in this way that the alumni first participated in the affairs of the institution.

The alumni dinner authorized in the constitution of the Association was slow to become a reality. The first suggestion to have such a gathering was made in 1866, but it was considered "inadvisable" to carry out the idea "as so few members of the association could conveniently attend." For the next several years suggestions were made and planning committees were even appointed, but not until 1875 was the first dinner authorized by the constitution actually held. It was preceded by the laconic announcement that it would be held in the Revere House "provided a sufficient number of the alumni express an intention to be present." A sufficient number did appear - forty-six - and the affair was a financial success, although not spectacularly so; receipts exceeded expenses by six cents.

The idea of an Alumni Field Day, to consist of athletic events and social festivities, was broached in 1909, to be held on a day preceding Commencement. By 1914 five Field Days had been held, and the whole matter was reviewed by the Association. There was great debate over the desirability of continuing the festivities on an annual basis and similar argument over what day of the week would be most convenient for the greatest number of people. These crises were somehow surmounted, and the annual Field Day was continued long after the First World War and became an occasion on which members of each year's graduating class were welcomed into membership in the Association. One of the means developed to bring the alumni into closer contact with the College was the plan inaugurated in 1906 to have the traditional Commencement dinner serve as the alumni dinner and to have the annual meeting of the Association on the campus.

– Miller, Russell E. A Light on the Hill