The Convocation ceremony began in the earliest days of the University and was generally held in the fall to honor members of the community for outstanding achievement. Fall Convocation today serves two purposes: it recognizes those third-year students who have earned Intermediate Honors, and it pays tribute to the recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Awards, the University's highest honor. From roughly 1950 to 1976, Fall Convocation was not held. Concerned by declining attendance on Founder’s Day (held annually on April 13, Thomas Jefferson’s birthday), University President Colgate W. Darden, Jr., abolished Fall Convocation and merged the Intermediate Honors ceremony for third-year students (and the Thomas Jefferson Award when it was created in 1955) into Founder’s Day activities. By 1976, the number of students eligible for Intermediate Honors had grown sufficiently to move the ceremony from Cabell Hall onto the South Lawn. Since autumn weather proved more reliable than spring weather, convocation was restored to its traditional fall schedule.
Honors and Awards Given
The Thomas Jefferson Awards
The Thomas Jefferson Awards are the highest honors given to members of the University community who have exemplified in character, work and influence the principles and ideals of Jefferson, and thus advanced the objectives for which he founded the University.
One award, sponsored since 1955 by the McConnell Foundation, recognizes excellence in service to the University. The other, which was established in 2009 by the Alumni Board of Trustees Endowment Fund, recognizes excellence in scholarship. Recipients must have been at the University for at least 15 years. Those who have retired are not eligible. Each award consists of a citation and a cash prize.
Visit the Thomas Jefferson Awards page for nomination information and to view a list of past recipients (from 1955 to present).
Certificates are presented to the top 20 percent of those students who have earned at least 60 credits of course work at the University by the end of their first two years of study. The University's undergraduate schools with first- and second- year students - the School of Architecture, the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of Nursing - bestow these awards.
The Grand Marshal and the University Mace
The grand marshal leads academic processions and introduces presenters during University ceremonies. The honor of acting as grand marshal is a three-year appointment by the University president.
The University mace is carried by the grand marshal. The mace was presented to the University by the Seven Society on April 13, 1961, and has been the University’s symbol of power and authority since then. Made by Patek Philippe of Geneva, Switzerland, it bears University scenes and emblems, including pictures of the Rotunda, the serpentine walls, a colonnaded walkway on the Lawn, and the statues of Thomas Jefferson and The Aviator.