Princeton traces its founding to a royal charter granted on October 22, 1746, by King George the Second of England. The first Commencement Exercises were held in 1748, in Newark, then home of the College of New Jersey, as Princeton was originally called. Six students were graduated at the first Commencement; in 2016, approximately 1,260 seniors received undergraduate degrees.
One of Princeton’s first graduate students was James Madison 1771, later the fourth president of the United States. He remained at the college after graduation to continue his studies with President John Witherspoon, who was the only college president as well as the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. Systematic graduate instruction was begun in the 1870s, and the Graduate School, as it is known today, was formally organized in 1901. In 2016, more than 800 recipients of advanced degrees were recognized at Commencement.
Princeton’s Commencements have been held in late spring only since 1844. Before then the ceremony took place in the fall because the College was in session all summer long. Since the College moved to Princeton in 1756, Commencement has been held in a variety of locations on or near campus, including Alexander Hall, the First Presbyterian Church, and Nassau Hall, but since 1922 the front lawn of Nassau Hall (known as front campus) has been the site of Commencement, weather permitting.