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History & Traditions

The meaning behind it all

Graduates of DU

A history of leadership

Since its founding in 1864, DU has played an integral role in the cultural, social, economic and educational life of the city it calls home.

Beyond its local contribution, the University is known nationally and internationally for preparing students to blaze trails in government, business, education, health care, sports, law, the arts—wherever there is a need for principled leadership, critical assessment and creative thinking.

A tradition of excellence

When you become a student at DU, you become part of a culture that emphasizes academic excellence, global responsibility, community engagement and creative approaches to problem solving.


Making history

In 1864, John Evans—governor of the Colorado Territory, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, founder of Northwestern University and namesake for the 14,264-foot Mount Evans—founded the University of Denver as Colorado Seminary. He did so with the backing of local businessmen and the Methodist Church.

A practicing Methodist, Evans believed that Christianity was intricately linked to education and that education was directly responsible for developing strong character. As he sought financial and moral support for the Colorado Seminary, he turned to his fellow churchmen, several of whom became trustees of the fledgling institution.

Although the trustees welcomed their connection to the Methodist Church, they were intent on creating an institution hospitable to people of various denominations. In drafting the Colorado Seminary's official charter, the trustees noted that "No test of religious faith shall ever be applied as a condition of admission."

Today, the University's vision, values, mission and goals complement the principles and traditions of the Methodist Church. In keeping with this legacy, the University of Denver welcomes students and employees of all faiths and backgrounds.

The University further embraces its Methodist roots by honoring an outstanding faculty member with the annual United Methodist Church Teacher/Scholar Award. The accolade recognizes those who demonstrate exceptional teaching, concern for students, and commitment to high standards in their personal and professional lives. 

The seminary had to close its doors temporarily after a few years in the unstable economic landscape of Denver's gold rush. But in 1880, the seminary re-opened as the University of Denver under Chancellor David Hastings Moore in a small building downtown. This time, it was for good, and DU's first graduate, John Hipp, took his diploma in 1884. University administrators eventually began looking for a quieter location, finding it several miles south of Denver on land donated by Rufus "Potato" Clark, a reformed alcoholic and potato farmer. The University Park campus was born in 1890 at the corner of what is now University Boulevard and Evans Avenue.

Memorable events

In the last century and a half, DU has seen its share of triumphs and setbacks, high points and low ones:

  • DU produced its first Rhodes Scholar, Stanley Kuhl Hornbeck, in 1904. Since then, seven more DU students have earned the honor, most recently in 2005.
  • In 1908, DU became one of the first universities in the country to open a college of business. Over the years, the business program has become one of the best in the nation.
  • Like other college campuses around the country, DU saw its enrollment expand rapidly after World War II, when returning soldiers took advantage of the GI Bill. To accommodate all of the new students, the University erected Quonset huts and launched a mini building boom.
  • DU made national headlines in 1970 with Woodstock West, a student protest against the Vietnam War and the killings of four students at Kent State.
  • In the early 1990s, the University began extensive planning for the coming century. A capital campaign raised $273 million for improvements to campus infrastructure and new buildings, research centers, scholarships and professorships. The University ultimately invested $450 million in its campus over the course of a decade, and when the new century dawned, DU was well positioned to advance its role in the local, national and global arenas.

    Rich with beauty and tradition, University Hall—which was built in the 1890s—lives alongside buildings from the 1930s, 1950s and early 21st century. All are shaded by hundreds of trees. In fact, the entire campus is designated as an arboretum.

Influential alumni

Our graduates are making their mark on the world.

  • David Adkins, comedian known as Sinbad
  • Eric Alexander, scaled Mt. Everest with first blind climber to summit
  • Bradbury Anderson, CEO, vice chairman, Best Buy
  • Ibrahim A. Assaf, finance minister, Saudi Arabia
  • C.J. Box, bestselling mystery novelist
  • Matt Carle, 2006 Hobey Baker Award winner, college hockey's highest individual honor
  • Terrance Carroll, former Colorado Speaker of the House
  • George Casey, Jr., former U.S. Army Chief of Staff
  • Bill Clarke, former consumer reporter, Denver Channel 7 news
  • Peter Coors, chairman, Molson Coors Brewing Co
  • Peter Domenici, former U.S. senator (R-N.M.)
  • Byron Dorgan, former U.S. senator (D-N.D.)
  • Rebecca Ann (King) Dreman, Miss America 1974
  • Mike Enzi, U.S. Sen. (R-Wyo.)
  • Heidi Ganahl, founder, Camp Bow Wow chain
  • Pat Grant, former CEO, National Western Stock Show
  • Peter Groff, director of faith-based and community initiatives in the U.S. Department of Education, first African American president of the Colorado Senate
  • Ahmad Ismail, mayor of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Howard P. James, former CEO, Sheraton Hotels
  • James Cox Kennedy, chairman, Cox Enterprises
  • Paul Laxalt, former Nevada governor and senator
  • Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman, Emirates airlines, CEO and chairman, The Emirates Group
  • Elliott Martin, Broadway producer
  • Duane Michals, photographer
  • Peter Morton, founder, Hard Rock Cafe chain
  • James Nicholson, former U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs
  • Gale Norton, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior
  • Craig Patrick, former Pittsburgh Penguins executive vice president/general manager
  • Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State
  • Scott Rosenberg, founder, Malibu Comics, screenwriter of Con Air and Men in Black
  • Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor, The New York Times
  • Mark Rycroft, former forward, Colorado Avalanche
  • Dan Shatzeder, winning pitcher of Game 6 of the 1987 World Series
  • Andy Taylor, CEO, chairman, Enterprise Holdings
  • Carol Tomé, CEO, The Home Depot
  • Susan Waltz, professor of public policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and former chair, International Executive Committee, Amnesty International
The University of Denver was founded by John Evans in 1864
DU campus on a snowy, wintry day
Faculty has shown dedication and commitment to the school throughout the century

Whether they graduated in 1910 or 2009, DU students are united by a host of traditions and stories that celebrate academic life and keep our history alive.

The chancellor's red vest

On Feb. 17, 1900, Chancellor Henry Buchtel hosted a senior breakfast in his home. In the interest of festivity and to invest the occasion with dignity, he wore a handsome red vest. In later years, DU quarterbacks were promised a similar red vest if they led their teams to victory.

The tradition lapsed for many years, until Chancellor Chester Alter, who served from 1953 until 1966, resurrected it for gala occasions. Since then, many University chancellors have sported red vests of their own, wearing them as symbols of leadership, hope and promise.

The DU rose

A special variety known as "Rosa Denvera," the DU Rose came to campus in 1912 when a friend gave Buchtel a rose bush as a gift. When it bloomed, University botanist Ira Cutler discovered the blossoms were unlike any others. After national plant experts declared the rose unique, Cutler developed a new and distinctive variety still used for a variety of functions on campus. It begins blooming around the time of Summer Commencement ceremonies.

The victory bell

In the highest spire of University Hall, a bell once tolled to signal class changes and herald sporting victories. Ringing the Victory Bell is a DU custom that dates back decades. Now the bell hangs in the Buchtel Tower and rings during Commencement.

Crimson and gold

DU's colors are crimson and gold, a choice made by a special committee convened in 1947. They're only slightly different from DU's original colors, scarlet and maize.

The hanging of the greens

This Colorado Women's College tradition dates back to 1930. Based upon the medieval practice in which the lord of the manor gathered all of his people to the main hall for an annual festival, the hanging of the greens calls for seniors to celebrate by festooning the Colorado Women's College with garlands of greenery.

Pioneer athletics

Over the decades, our student-athletes have filled the trophy cases—and our fans have been there to support them.

    • Hockey: Winning its first championship in 1958 under legendary coach Murray Armstrong, our hockey team set a precedent. With seven national championships to its credit, the Pioneer hockey team routinely skates circles around the competition. Always eager to repeat success, the Pioneers won back-to-back championships three times: in 1960-61, 1968-69 and 2004-05.
    • Lacrosse: The Pioneers men's lacrosse team won its first national championship in 2015, making DU the first university west of the Atlantic Coast states to win the trophy.
    • Skiing: Since the ski program's inception, the team has captured 23 NCAA national championships—more than any other ski program in the country. DU skiers have also won 88 individual national championships.
Pioneer teams: DU has won 31 NCAA Division I national championships and has 17 NCAA Division I sports teams.
DU Hockey team
DU swimmer