Baccalaureate service

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The Roanoke College choir performing at a Baccalaureate service

A baccalaureate service (or, baccalaureate Mass in the case of institutions affiliated with the Catholic Church and its religious institutes) is a celebration that honors a graduating senior class from a college or high school or eighth grade. The event is typically a Christianity-based interdenominational service, though it may also be of a strictly Catholic nature.

The service is held within a couple weeks of the graduation/commencement ceremony, perhaps on a Sunday before, the day preceding, or immediately preceding the graduation. Speakers selected tend to be community leaders, faculty members, students, or local religious leaders, and may be elected by the graduating class. Speeches are often intermixed with musical performances, drama, and worship. A modern-day Baccalaureate address generally lasts less than half an hour. In ancient times they could last as long as four hours.[1]


A claim much repeated is that "the baccalaureate service is believed to have originated at the University of Oxford in 1432 when each bachelor was required to deliver a sermon in Latin as part of his academic requirements."[2] However, it was "examinatory sermons" that were required of all Oxford bachelors before their "inception" or commencement; these were mentioned in a 1311 statute.[3] The American baccalaureate service is an outgrowth of the baccalaureate sermon.[4][5] The earliest known in America is at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1760.[6]

Because of United States Supreme Court rulings such as Lee v. Weisman (1992) regarding the separation of church and state at public school graduation ceremonies, baccalaureate services are usually not official, school-sponsored events at American public schools.[7] However, many have student-initiated services at private facilities not paid for with government funds, and as such are fully permitted by law. School-sponsored baccalaureate services for American public schools, on school grounds, occur rarely.


  1. ^ "Baccalaureate Address: Mark Wallace". Swarthmore College. May 2010. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  2. ^ "Baccalaureate Service". Columbia University. May 2018. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  3. ^ Ronald B. Begley & Joseph W. Koterski, eds. (2009). Medieval Education. Fordham Univ. Press. pp. 85–86.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  4. ^ "Baccalaureate Ceremony FAQs". Wake Forest University. May 2018. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  5. ^ "Baccalaureate Ceremony". Dickinson College. May 2018. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  6. ^ Sack, Daniel (1993). "The Last Sermon" (PDF).
  7. ^ "School Involvement in Baccalaureate Services - Freedom From Religion Foundation".