Commencement Programs Collection Opens

It seems appropriate to unfold one of our newest digital collections, Commencement Programs, in a year when nine separate UMW graduation ceremonies were held over four days! Graduation marks the final rite of passage for seniors who have worked tirelessly to achieve their academic dreams, and the commencement program is part of that special event, documenting the activities and graduates.

The earliest commencement program in the University Archives collection is a small publication dating from 1912. First Commencement Program for the State Normal School

It notes the ceremony took place in the Auditorium (Monroe Hall) and lists the “Presentation of the Athletic Trophy” as part of the event. The speaker was the Honorable J.D. Eggleston, Jr.

Photograph of Joseph D. Eggleston, Jr.

Joseph D. Eggleston, Jr. speaker at UMW’s (then the State Normal School) first commencement. Image: Virginia Tech Special Collections.

Eggleston was the Superintendent of Schools for Virginia at the time. He had been in the position from 1906-1912 and was an advocate in establishing the three normal schools for women – Harrisonburg in 1909, Fredericksburg in 1911, and Radford in 1912. His motto was, “Education should be the chief business of the state.”

Programs from the 1920s and early 1930s are sparse in our holdings. But after 1933, University Archives has every undergraduate commencement program, except for the 1936 issue.

100 years ago this single page document was the Commencement Program.

100 years ago this single page document was the Commencement Program.

Through the years the programs documented the University’s name changes, faculty and student awards, conferring of honorary degrees, and the first graduate programs.

James Farmer smiles and shakes President Anderson's hand upon receiving his honorary degree at the 1997 Commencement.

James Farmer received his honorary degree from President Anderson at the 1997 Commencement.

Initially an individual commencement program for the Master-level graduates was not published, as the students were small in number. But by 2003, individual programs were published for the graduate-level ceremony which often took place on a separate day. As you search through the collection, you will see there are still some years though where the two ceremonies are combined.

The 1983 program was the first to include graduates from the first Master’s program – the .Master of Liberal Studies (MALS).

The 1983 program was the first to include graduates from the first Master’s program – the .Master of Liberal Studies (MALS).

Enjoy browsing the Commencement Programs and check back soon to see more additions to our digital collections!

August 1, 2021