Diploma Circle at Smith College

Smith undergraduates end their academic career in Northampton with one final tradition: the Diploma Circle.

Diploma Circle at Smith College, 1984

Diploma Circle at Smith College, 1984

When they walk across the front stage and shake hands with the College president during the Commencement ceremony, graduating seniors are not given their own diplomas.  Instead, they receive a classmate’s.  In order to leave with the correct diploma, the entire senior class gathers in concentric circles on the lawn of King-Scales houses. On a signal, they start to pass the diplomas around until the right one finally lands in their hands.  Usually, this is met with a  joyful look similar to this image from 1944:

Student opening her diploma, 1944

Student opening her diploma, 1944

Evidence in the College Archives suggests that the Diploma Circle has been around since at least 1911, possibly earlier.  It has seen many names in that time, including: the “Magic Circle” and the “Great Ring.”  Whatever the name,  when the student steps out of the Circle with her diploma in hand, she knows she is officially a  Smith alumna!

*1984 Diploma Circle image by Gabriel Cooney


The staff of the College Archives wishes all of the Senior Class our best in your next journey, whatever it may be.  We hope you’ll return to the Archives anytime you’re on campus in the future!!

All the best from Nanci, Debbie, Leslie & Susan

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