The 1822 minutes of the Board of Trustees, under Rules for the Governance of the College note that "There shall be annually a public examination in the presence of the Faculty, a committee of the Trustees, and such other persons as may choose to attend, beginning on the first Wednesday before Commencement." It would not be for another two years, 1824, before Centre’s first Commencement was held. The earliest extant Commencement program, dating from 1839, shows that the ceremony consisted of music, student orations, and conferring of degrees. The orations were on such weighty subjects as "The French Revolution," "The necessity of fixed principles," and "The progress of commerce and its influence on society." This program of orations and music would remain the substance of Commencement for much of the nineteenth-century.
In 1854 the ceremony was expanded to the morning and afternoon to accommodate all the exercises – fourteen orations, a salutary, two benedictions, a valedictory, two prayers, and fifteen musical interludes. Splitting Commencement into morning and afternoon sessions was abandoned in 1860. The 1856 program lists two members of each of Centre’s three literary societies (Chamberlain, Deinologian, and Athenaean), indicating that the societies were active participants in the ceremonies, undoubtedly in the area concerning the selection of speakers. The 1880 Commencement saw the introduction of Class Day as part of the ceremony. This was put on by the senior class, essentially a "roast" of the seniors and faculty. Speakers included the class orator, poet, historian, phrenologist, grumbler, and prophet.
By 1891 Commencement had become a four-day ceremony, with the first day devoted to the Baccalaureate sermon, the second to an oratorical contest, the third to class day exercises, and the fourth to Commencement itself. The Commencement address, given by an outsider to the graduating senior class, first started in 1907. It was also in this year that student orations ceased.
By 1916 Commencement had grown to a five day festivity, with the Baccalaureate sermon given on the first day; the Carnival play on the second; an oratorical contest, the Carnival parade, a baseball game, and a "gala night" on the third; the Class Day exercises, a track meet, and the Carnival dance on the fourth; and Commencement on the fifth. It was also around this time that alumni reunions began to be held during Commencement.
Four years later, in 1920, the festivities had grown to a week-long event, with dances, parties, plays, Class Day exercise, alumni luncheons, athletic contests, dinners, Carnival parade and dance, Baccalaureate sermon, and Commencement. It would remain this way, with slight variations, for the next two decades.
The years between 1940 and 1945 brought changes. The number of male students at Centre plummeted, and many of those who remained to go through Commencement had already been drafted, and would leave for military service soon after graduating. All of this made Commencement a much more subdued affair. Although the number of students rose dramatically after World War II, Commencement would not regain many of the pre-war festivities.
For much of the first half of the twentieth-century, Baccalaureate and Commencement were held on separate days, with the first on Sunday, and the second on Monday. In the late 1940’s, however, both were moved to the same day – Sunday. Throughout the 1950’s Commencement became a weekend affair, with alumni banquets and Carnival activities held on Saturday, and Baccalaureate and Commencement on Sunday. Since its inception in 1904, Carnival had always been a part of the Commencement activities. In 1961 it was moved to coincide with the newly instituted Parent’s Weekend, held in April. Since the early 1950’s, Centre had held a fall Homecoming. By the early 1960’s many of the alumni activities, formerly held during Commencement, had been moved to Homecoming. In 1962 what remained of the Commencement alumni activities were moved to an Alumni Day held in April. Commencement now assumed its modern shape, an event focusing on the conferring of degrees on the graduating senior class, held in conjunction with Baccalaureate on Sunday.