Las Vegas Sun

November 22, 2017

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Scarlet and Gray to observe golden anniversary commencement Sunday


Sam Morris

UNLV President Neal Smastrek speaks during UNLV’s commencement Saturday, May 12, 2012.

UNLV grads, by the numbers

  • Here's a snapshot of this year's UNLV grads:
  • • 56 percent of graduates are female
  • • 43 percent of the graduating class students are from minority groups
  • • Average age of bachelor's degree recipients is 26
  • • Average age of graduate/professional degree recipients is 32
  • • Average age overall is 28
  • • UNLV's youngest graduate this year is 18 years old
  • • UNLV's oldest graduate is 88 years old
  • • 83 percent of UNLV graduates this year are Nevada residents

UNLV is celebrating its 50th commencement Sunday, a milestone that represents incredible growth for the university.

UNLV began as an extension campus of UNR in 1951 with 12 full-time students and 16 part-time students who met in the dressing rooms of Las Vegas High School's auditorium.

The branch campus was officially named Nevada Southern University in 1965, after graduating its first class the previous year with just 29 students.

Since then, UNLV has grown to become Nevada's largest public university and has produced more than 109,000 graduates, some of whom have gone on to local and national fame.

Sunday's commencement ceremonies will feature more than 2,549 graduates who come from all around the world.

To commemorate the half-century milestone, the Sun took a look back at UNLV's graduation ceremonies over the past five decades:

    • Nevada Gov. Grant Sawyer addresses the first graduating class at commencement in 1964, when UNLV was known as Nevada Southern University. 29 students graduated at the first commencement ceremony. (UNLV Special Collections)


      Then-Nevada Gov. Grant Sawyer addresses the first graduating class of 1964, which boasted 29 students. They were called the "Centennial Class" in commemoration of Nevada's 100th anniversary as a state.

      The first graduates of Nevada Southern University receive their diplomas from Reno a year later. This lengthy delay exacerbated north-south tensions.

    • Nevada Southern University's second graduation ceremony in 1965 was held in the gym, which is now the UNLV Marjorie Barrick Museum. (UNLV Special Collections)


      Nevada Southern University's second graduation ceremony in 1965 is in a campus gym. It is now UNLV's Marjorie Barrick Museum.

      That year, Nevada Southern becomes the semi-autonomous Nevada Southern University, which had its own curriculum and staff. In 1969, the university became known as the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

    • Frank Sinatra receives an honorary doctorate from UNLV President Donald Baepler during the 1976 commencement.


      Frank Sinatra receives an honorary doctorate from UNLV's third president, Donald Baepler, during the 1976 commencement.

      During the 1970s, UNLV rapidly expands to meet enrollment demand, constructing several new campus buildings, including the 500-plus-seat Judy Bayley Theatre and nearly 2,000-seat Artemus Ham Concert Hall; the McDermott Physical Education complex; and the chemistry, humanities, life sciences and education buildings.

    • UNLV's 1977 commencement held inside the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts. (UNLV Special Collections)


      UNLV's 1977 commencement is staged inside the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts. That year, UNLV's enrollment surpasses UNR.

    • The 25th commencement ceremony in 1983 was held at the Riviera Casino & Hotel. (UNLV Photo Services)


      UNLV's 25th commencement ceremony in 1983 is at the Riviera Casino & Hotel.

      During the 1980s, UNLV launches the Marjorie Barrick Lecture series, attracting major world figures such as Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Walter Cronkite and Henry Kissinger. The university also opens Beam Hall, which houses the world-renowned Harrah College of Hotel Administration.

      In 1983, the 18,500-seat Thomas & Mack Center opens and UNLV replaces its former mascot Beauregard, a Confederate soldier, with the current Hey Reb mascot.

    • Vasili Sulich -- greeting the audience in a theatrical manner.


      Vassili Sulich, the former artistic director of the Nevada Dance Theatre, speaks during the 1987 commencement, when he receives the Distinguished Nevadan award from UNLV's fifth president, Robert Maxson.

      During the subsequent decade, the Runnin' Rebels capture the NCAA Division I basketball championship against Duke University, setting the record for margin of victory in a championship game.

      The Desert Research Institute moves into a $50 million headquarters near UNLV's campus, and UNLV opens the Tam Alumni Center and the Sogg Architecture Building.

    • Emily Black, representing entertainment engineering's first graduating class, flies over the crowd during the ceremony on May 12, 2012. (Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services)


      Emily Black, who is a member of the entertainment engineering major's first graduating class, flies over the crowd during the 2012 commencement ceremony at the Thomas & Mack Center.

      In the new millennium, UNLV opens the $58 million Lied Library, the Beam Music Center, Cox Pavilion, Mendenhall Center, and a new recreation and wellness center. The Boyd School of Law also moves into the old site of the Dickinson Library.

      The university also adds several academic programs, including the School of Dental Medicine, the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs and the Black Mountain Institute — and even opens a branch campus in Singapore.

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