Although you may not realize that it was first composed as a military march, you’ll instantly recognize one of Sir Edward Elgar’s most popular works, "Pomp and Circumstance, March No. 1 in D," - especially the nearly two-minute middle section so commonly associated with graduation.
Composed by Elgar in 1901, March No. 1 was so well received that the very next year Elgar was encouraged to include it his coronation ode for King Edward VII. It was then that English poet A.C. Benson set the middle - or “trio” part - to a patriotic text, and the hymn “Land of Hope and Glory” was born.
Four years after its London premiere, Yale University music professor Samuel Stanford arranged for his close friend Edward Elgar to receive an honorary degree during the school’s graduation. As part of honoring England’s most prominent composer, parts of his oratorios were performed, and the popular "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 in D" concluded the ceremony.
Two years later, Princeton used it, followed by the University of Chicago in 1908, Columbia in 1913, Vassar in 1916 and Rutgers in 1918. By the 1920s it was the pervasive graduation theme. Temple University archives indicate that March No. 1 was included in graduation ceremonies in 1945.
Graduation and "Pomp and Circumstance No. 1" are not inextricably linked. Richard Griscom, head of the music library at the University of Pennsylvania, graduated from the University of Tennessee, where candidates walked to the march from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. As for the well-known refrain, Griscom says it’s too bad the trio section is often repeated over and over because the entire six-minute march deserves to be better known.