Harvard University and Princeton University are among the oldest colleges in the country, and, appropriately for their age, share a tradition that might be more at home in the 18th century.
Each year, both Ivy League schools have one graduating senior give a commencement speech entirely in Latin, a remnant from when these ceremonies were conducted entirely in the ancient language. Students in the audience are given printed versions of the speech in order to follow along — with Harvard seniors receiving an English translation and Princeton seniors getting “laugh” and “cheer” cues so everyone can show off their supposed Latin mastery.
Despite the shared tradition, the schools have very different ways of determining who gives the Latin oration each year.
At Harvard, student commencement speeches — one from an undergraduate, one from a graduate student, and one in Latin — are chosen through a judged competition. In the lead-up to commencement, any graduating student can present a five-minute speech to a panel of Harvard faculty, who rate them on qualities such as content, originality, and humour.
Besides the honour of getting chosen to speak at the commencement ceremony, each student speaker receives a $US1,000 prize.
Princeton’s Latin oration — given by the graduating class’ salutatorian — is considered the university’s oldest honour. The speaker is chosen by the school’s faculty, based on GPA and the ability to give a speech entirely in Latin.
Watch last year’s Latin commencement speech at Harvard below (with English subtitles):
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