Artifact Spotlight: Engraved Copper Plate for NWC Diploma, c. 1925

---Grace Christenson, Curatorial Assistant

Graduation at the Naval War College is a formal academic ceremony that marks a student’s successful completion of a course of study at the College. Since tomorrow is graduation day it is fitting to look back at the first ever formal graduation ceremony held on 27 May 1925. This was also the first year that graduates were presented with formal diplomas. This engraved copper plate was used to print those first diplomas and many others after. The diplomas printed with this 11” x 8.25” plate featured a device that included the attributes of Minerva, the patroness of scientific warfare: a Grecian helmet with serpent, a Grecian round shield bearing the head of Medusa, a Grecian spear, and an olive branch. The Latin motto Ex Unitate Victoria means "unity leads to victory." The plate  also includes the reverse text “This is to certify that ____ has satisfactorily completed the course presented at the United States Naval War College for the year ____.”

Sample diploma printed in 1925 for Col. Frank E. Evans, USMC
Since that first ceremony, the graduation exercises have changed many times. Modern diplomas now feature the official Naval War College crest and specify the particular college the student is graduating from: the Naval Staff College, Naval Command College, the College of Naval Warfare, etc.) In 1970, civilian faculty began to wear their robes in an academic procession. In 1984, in honor of the institution’s 100th anniversary, the Naval War College Foundation presented a mace to the College. Carried by the most senior member of the faculty (the Faculty Marshal), the mace remains an integral part of the academic procession. Since the 1990s, the Naval War College has held graduations three times a year, in November, March, and June.  Also, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges accredited the Naval War College to award a Masters of Arts degree in National Security and Strategic Studies. This has allowed the College to award diplomas to international students who are not enrolled in the Masters Degree program.

The copper plate used for printing the original diplomas, along with other graduation memorabilia including the mace, sample diplomas, and an academic hood belonging to Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, are on display on the second deck of the Naval War College Museum.

Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum                                    78.05.01


  1. Thank you to all our wonderful curators! This article in The Atlantic says it all:

    Thank you for all you do to preserve and celebrate our history!

  2. Lt Col Vance Bateman (NWC Class of 2008)

    It might be a nice option for graduates today to be able to buy a blank diploma of this historic design on which they could have their names printed on it later commercially. In addition, it could be a good way for the museum to generate revenue. Would it possible to have more printed up?


    1. Thank you for the comment. Copies could be phyiscally made from some samples that exist though we would need to seek approval. Might be an interesting idea for a future anniversary class as well.


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