Bachelor of Arts Recipients, 1959
Bachelor of Arts Recipients, 1959

There have been Commencement exercises at Old Dominion University (ODU) since 1945, when the institution was known as the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary. 


Students would complete their first two years of study at the Norfolk Division and then transfer to either the Williamsburg campus of the College of William & Mary or Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI) in Blacksburg, though it was not uncommon for Norfolk Division students to attend other universities throughout the country as well. The official recognition of students successfully completing the Norfolk Division’s course of study did not occur until May 1943, when for the first time completion certificates were presented to eligible students during final convocation exercises that marked the end of the academic year. College convocation, while not directly associated with commencement, were mandatory assemblies of the student body conducted at the university in which special programs or speakers were presented with the intention of enhancing the academic experience and fostering a sense of community.

The first formal commencement exercises conducted by the Norfolk Division took place in June 1945 at the new Larchmont School Auditorium where seventeen students were awarded Associate of Arts degrees. By 1956, the Norfolk Division awarded its first four year baccalaureate diplomas to fifteen eligible students. In June 1966, the first master’s degrees were awarded, where Margaret Simmons became the first African American student to receive a degree from Old Dominion.  Ronald Horne became the first African American to receive an undergraduate degree from Old Dominion in 1969. The first winter Commencement took place in December 1985. From 1985 to 1990, another ceremony was added in August but it became too hectic to perform three ceremonies each year. Over time, students completing their studies in August would eventually join the winter graduates during the December ceremony. Commencement exercises between 1945 and 2002 have taken place in various locations throughout the city of Norfolk, both on campus and off, such as the old Norfolk Arena, Foreman Field, and Norfolk Scope. Since December 2002, commencement exercises are conducted on campus at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. In 2009-2010, the University awarded 4,632 bachelors, masters and Ph.D. degrees.


Walk Across Campus
University Seal on Kaufman Mall, 1999

During the Commencement exercises, students walk from Webb University Center, along Kaufman Mall, and down Hampton Boulevard dressed in academic regalia towards the ceremony in the Ted Constant Convocation Center. All graduating seniors are allowed to step on the University Seal on the mall as new alumni of the university; only alumni are allowed to step on the seal.

University Mace

The University Mace is carried during the Commencement ceremony by the University Marshal to lead the academic processional and recessional, and is displayed on the platform during the ceremony. The mace was commissioned by the university for the inauguration of Joseph M. Marchello in 1985. It was designed by William Wagner and was created by Dianne DeBeixedon, both professors of art at ODU, and features a silver head with a three-dimensional evolution of the elliptically-shaped University Medallion. The shaft was crafted from Brazilian rosewood.

University Medallion

The University Medallion is worn by the President of Old Dominion University. The original medal was authorized by the Board of Visitors in 1976 and first worn by Alfred B. Rollins, Jr. at his inauguration as the third president. Designed by Donald A. Borja, class of 1969, the medallion represents the continuance of higher education.

Commencement Speakers


1945: June – Robert C. McClelland, Faculty, College of William & Mary in Norfolk, Virginia

1947: June – Rear Admiral W.L. Ainsworth Commandant Fifth Naval District

1948: June – Sharvey G. Umback, Dean of the College of William & Mary

1949: June – Dr. Walter S. Newman, President, Virginia Polytechnic Institute


1950: June – Dr. Walter T. McFall, Professor of Dentistry, Emory University

1951: June – Dr. Raymond B. Pinchbeck, Dean, University of Richmond

1952: June – Mr. Alvin Duke Chandler, President, College of William & Mary

1953: June – Porter Hardy, Jr. U.S. House of Representatives, Norfolk, Virginia

1954: June – Colgate W. Darden, Norfolk, Virginia

1955: June – Mr. H. Edgar Timmerman. First Director of Norfolk Division; October – George J. Oliver, Head, William & Mary Department of Education

1956: June – A.E.S. Stephens, Lieutenant Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia; October – Charles F. Marsh, Charter member of faculty, College of William & Mary in Norfolk, first economics professor

1957: June – W. Carson Ryan, Kenan Professor of Education, Emeritus, University of North Carolina

1958: June – Paul H. Farrier, Executive Secretary State Council of Higher Education

1959: June – Robert B. House University of North Carolina


1960: June – Frank. P. Graham, President, University of North Carolina

1961: June – Dr. Fred C. Cole. President, Washington and Lee.

1962: June – John F. Chapman, Associate Editor, Harvard Business Review

1963: June – Dr. Willis M. Tate, President, Southern Methodist University

1964: June – Charles F. Marsh, President, Wofford College

1965: June – Dr. Harmon H. Bro, Director of the Institute of the Study of Adult Psychology, Evanston, Illinois

1966: June – Dr. Frederick C. Barghoorn, Chairman, Council on Russian and East European Studies, Yale University

1967: June – John T. Caldwell, Chancellor, North Carolina State University

1968: June – Dr. Noah Langdale Jr., President, Georgia State College

1969: June – Colgate W. Darden, President Emeritus, University of Virginia; August – James L. Bugg, ODU President


1970: June – Linwood Holton, Governor of Virginia

1971: June – William B. Spong Jr., United States Senator from Virginia

1972: June -Joseph P. Cosand, United States Office of Education, Deputy Commissioner for Higher Education

1973: June – Mr. Frank Batten, Publisher of The Virginian-Pilot

1974: May – Dr. Lewis W. Webb, President Emeritus ODU

1975: May – Mills E. Godwin, Governor of Virginia

1976: May – Thomas A. Graves Jr., President, College of William & Mary

1977: May – Nicholas von Hoffman, Columnist, Washington Post

1978: May – John N. Dalton, Governor of Virginia

1979: May – Gordon K. Davies, Director, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia


1980: May – Dorothy Doumar, Board of Visitors; Gordon McDougall, President of the Student Body; Alfred B. Rollins Jr., President of ODU

1981: May – Dorothy Doumar, Board of Visitors; Rickey Adams, President of the Student Body; Alfred B. Rollins Jr., President of ODU

1982: May – Alfred B. Rollins President ODU, Dorothy Doumar, Board of Visitors, Keith Curtis, President Student Body

1983: May – John T. Casteen III, Secretary of Education, Virginia; December: Wasn’t an official Commencement but termed “Student Recognition Day. ” Dr. Robert Ash, Acting Dean, School of Engineering was the speaker

1984: May – Charles S. Robb, Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia

1985: May – Alfred B. Rollins, Jr., President of Old Dominion University; August – Wasn’t an official Commencement but termed “Student Recognition Day. ” Richard T. Adams, class of 1981 was the speaker; December – G. William Whitehurst, 2nd Virginia District, U.S. Congress

1986: May – Howard W. Jones, Jr, Eastern Virginia Medical School.; August – Israel Taback, NASA (1st official summer Commencement); December – Dr. Jean Bernard Gazarian, UN General Assembly

1987: May: Thomas P. Newsom, Tonight Show saxophone player; August: Owen B. Pickett, U.S. Congressman; December: Grace Brewster Murray Hopper, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (Retired)

1988: May – Robert Osborne Reid, former Head of Oceanography at Texas A&M; August: Mary Blackburn Walsh, Nursing Educator; December: Gene R. Carter, Superintendent of Norfolk Public Schools

1989: May – No special speaker. Just remarks from the honorary degree recipient, Edwin W. Chittum, former Superintendent of Chesapeake Public Schools; August: William B. Spong, Interim President of ODU, Brenda T. Williams, Douglas Tudor; December: No special speaker. Just remarks from the honorary degree recipient, Stephen J. Wright


1990: May – No special speaker. Just remarks from the honorary degree recipient, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court (Retired); August: No speaker; December: Edwin Newman, Journalist

1991: May – James Koch, President of ODU; December: Joseph J. Sisco, U. S. Diplomat

1992: May – Mary Sue Terry, Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia; December: Admiral David E. Jeremiah, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

1993: May – Leah Sears-Collins, Georgia Supreme Court Justice; December – Owen B. Pickett  2nd Congressional District

1994: May – Donald S. Beyer Jr., Lieutenant Governor of Virginia; December – Gerald L. Baliles, former Governor of Virginia

1995: May – John J. Sheehan, General U.S. Marine Corps Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Command; December – Beth E. Polson, Executive Producer Polson Company

1996: May – Samuel D. Proctor, American Civil Rights Figure; December – Joanna Lau, President of LAU Technologies

1997: May – Normon Sisisky, Fourth District, Virginia, Congress; December – Willie E. Gary, Esquire, Hoffler and Associates

1998: May – Bill Cosby, Comedian; December – Morton Dean, ABC News National Correspondent

1999: May – Sam Donaldson, Reporter, White House Correspondent; December – Admiral Harold W. Gehman, Jr. Commander in Chief Joint Forces Command and Supreme Allied Commander


2000: May – Fred Rogers, children’s television personality; December 17, 2000: Randall Pinkston, Anchorman

2001: May – Tim Russert, NBC’s “Meet the Press”; December – Roberta Bondar, Canadian Physician, Astronaut

2002: May – Ruud Lubbers, Prime Minister of Netherlands; December – Steve Coll, Managing Editor of Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize Winner

2003: May – Thomas Schievelbein, Northup Grumman, and David Goode, of Norfolk Southern. (Split Ceremony); December – Elie Weisel, Holocaust Museum Founder, Author: Night

2004: May – Alton “Jay” Harris, ESPN Sportscaster and class of 1987, and Admiral Vern Clark Chief of Naval Operations (Split Ceremony); December – Mark R. Warner, Governor of Virginia

2005: May – John McCaslin, Washington Times and Chicago Tribune, and Cathryn Cranston, Harvard Business Review Publisher (Split Ceremony); December – Vivienne Poy, Member of Canada Senate

2006: May – Wolf Blitzer, CNN’s “The Situation Room,” and Michael D’Orso, Author of “Like Judgment Day” (Split Ceremony); December – John T. Casteen III UVA President

2007: May – Marian Wright Edelman, Founder of Children’s Defense League, and R. Brooks Hanson, Deputy Editor, Science Magazine (Split Ceremony); December – Robert Anthony “Tony” Snow, White House Press Secretary, and M.G. Vassanji, Author

2008: May – Chris Matthews, “Hardball with Chris Matthews,” and Leonard Pitts, Jr. of the Miami Herald; December – Timothy M. Kaine, Governor of Virginia, and Kathleen Parker, Columnist

2009: May – Lt. Gen Kathleen Gainey, Director for logistics Joint Chiefs of Staff, and David Gergen, Director of Communications for Ronald Reagan; December – Benjamin S. Carson, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient by President George W. Bush,  and Marilyn Tam, Director and Founder of Us Foundation


2010: May – Klaus Scharioth, German Ambassador to the United States, and Alina Cho, “American Morning” on CNN; December; Robert F. Mc.Donnell, Governor of Virginia, and Admiral William J. Fallon, U.S. Navy

2011: May – Blythe J. McGarvie, Author, “Shaking the Globe: Courageous Decision-Makers in a changing World,” Jim Webb, Virginia Senator, and Adriane M. Brown, COO Intellectual Ventures; December – General Stephane Abrial, of NATO’s Allied Commander Transformation, and Patricia J. Williams, Lawyer, Author: “The Alchemy of Race and Rights”

2012: May 4 and 5 – Les Payne, Pulitzer Prize Winning Reporter, Wendy Bahr, Vice President, Strategic Partners for the Worldwide Partner Organization for Cisco. Jack J. Ross, President & COO of Dominion Enterprises; December – Christine Mann Darden, Director, NASA Langley, Kenneth A. Samet, President and CEO, Medstar Health

2013: May 10 and 11 – Ines Bustillo, Director, Office of United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. J. Randy Forbes, U.S. Congress, Barry C. Black, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy; December – Honorable Scott Rigell, U.S. House of Representatives, Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children’s Zone

2014: May 9 and 10 – Nancy Kirkpatrick, President of Lionsgate Movie Company.  Alma J. Powell, America’s Promise Alliance; December Mike Petters, CEO Huntington Ingalls Industries, Robert C. Bobby Scott, U.S. House of Representatives

2015: May 8 and 9 – Terry McAuliffe, Governor of Virginia, Marcia K. Brand, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; December – Alice C. Hill, White House National Security Council, The Honorable Ralph S. Northam, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia

2016: May 6 and 7 – Robb Wittman, Congressman, Robert M. Blue, Senior Vice President of Dominion Power, and Joyce Roche, CEO, Girls Incorporated. December 17 – Rear Admiral Peter A. Gumataotao, Chief of Staff, Strategic Plans and Policy with Supreme Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, and Molly Ward, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources

2017: May 5 and 6 – Tim Siebles, English Professor and Virginia Poet Laureate (May 5 Graduate ceremony), Christine Pantoya, Senior Vice President of Mobile Strategy for the NBA (May 5 College of Arts and Letters), Ting Xu, Founder and President of Evergreen Enterprises (May 6 Darden College of Education and Strome College of Business), and Angela Hucles, Founder and CEO of Empowerment Through Sport and an Olympic gold medalist (May 6 Batten College of Engineering and Technology, College of Health Sciences, and College of Sciences). December 16 – Drew Ungvarsky, class of 2002 and CEO and Executive Creative Director of Grow, an advertising agency (College of Sciences, Darden College of Education, Batten College of Engineering and Technology), and Miki Toliver King, Vice President, Operations and Digital Marketing at the Washington Post (College of Arts and Letters, Strome College of Business, College of Health Sciences)

2018: May 4 and 5 – John A. Adam, Mathematics Professor (May 4 Advanced Degree ceremony), Reuben E. Brigety II, Dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University (May 4 College of Arts and Letters), Liz Edlich ’85, Founder and CEO of Radical Skincare (May 5 Strome College of Business and Darden College of Education), and Sharon Dunbar, Vice President and General Manager of Federal Systems at General Dynamics Mission Systems (May 5 Batten College of Engineering and Technology, College of Health Sciences, and College of Sciences). December 15 – James A. Squires, Chairman, President and CEO of Norfolk Southern (9 am: Darden College of Education and Professional Studies, Batten College of Engineering and Technology, College of Sciences), and Justin E. Fairfax, Lt. Governor of Virginia (2 pm: College of Arts and Letters, Strome College of Business, College of Health Sciences).

2019: May 10 and 11 – Maj. Gen. Jeanette (Jan) K. Edmunds (U.S. Army-Ret.) (May 10 College of Arts and Letters), Dr. Carolyn Rutledge, Professor of Nursing at ODU and Professor of Family Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School (May 10 Advanced Degree ceremony), Betsy Duke ’83, Chair of Wells Fargo’s Board of Directors (May 11 Strome College of Business and Darden College of Education and Professional Studies), Tim Kaine, United States Senator from Virginia and former Governor of Virginia (Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, College of Health Sciences and College of Sciences). December 14 – Aubrey L. Layne, Jr., Virginia Secretary of Finance (9 am: Darden College of Education and Professional Studies, Batten College of Engineering and TEchnology, and College of Sciences), and Kenneth C. Alexander, Mayor of Norfolk (2 pm: College of Arts and Letters, STrome College of Business, and College of Health Sciences).


  1. Old Dominion University Commencements, Special Collections and University Archives, Patricia W. and J. Douglas Perry Library, Old Dominion University Libraries, Norfolk, VA 23529.
  2. Old Dominion University Photographic and Multimedia Collection, Special Collections and University Archives, Patricia W. and J. Douglas Perry Library, Old Dominion University Libraries, Norfolk, VA 23529.
  3. Mace & Crown, Old Dominion University, 1961-2018.