For the Record: Commencement ceremonial objects

In the pomp and pageantry at Commencement and other ceremonial occasions, Penn puts some items on display that represent the authority of the University and its leaders.

The University president wears the President’s Badge to signify the authority of the chief executive. The four-inch-diameter silver medallion is worn around the president’s neck on a silver chain composed of  alternating round and oblong flexible links. The Badge includes a depiction of the corporate seal of the University on one side and a representation of the orrery seal on the other.

The Secretary of the University leads the procession carrying the University Mace, the gold-washed silver and ebony ornamental symbol of authority of Penn.

The Keys to the University are handed to the president as a symbol of the office. The three brass keys are presented on a blue cushion with a red trim. The symbolic Keys were first used in 1895 for the inauguration of Charles Custis Harrison as provost, the equivalent role of president today. Harrison received the keys during Penn’s Commencement ceremony at the Academy of Music in Center City, where the ceremonies were held at the time.

Pennsylvania Governor Daniel Hastings, ex officio president of Penn’s Board of Trustees, installed Harrison as provost by presenting him with the Keys.

An alumnus, Harrison received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Penn. In his years as provost, Penn experienced expansive growth in fundraising through his connections in the community, as well as his own large personal contributions. The funds allowed Penn to build dorms, Houston Hall, the Penn Museum, medical labs, and the Law, Engineering, and Dental buildings.

Harrison College House is named for the former provost.

The ceremonial Keys to the University were last used in the inauguration of former President Judith Rodin in October 1994.

The keys are part of the collections of the University Archives and Records Center.

For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at

Keys Story