early 15c., "one who holds a degree" (originally with man; as a stand-alone noun from mid-15c.), from Medieval Latin graduatus, past participle of graduari "to take a degree," from Latin gradus "a step; a step climbed (on a ladder or stair);" figuratively "a step toward something, a degree of something rising by stages" (from PIE root *ghredh- "to walk, go"). As an adjective, from late 15c.
early 15c., "to confer a university degree upon," from Medieval Latin graduatus (see graduate (n.)). Intransitive sense from 1807. Related: Graduated; graduating.