Commencement is fast approaching and we’re all sad to have to say goodbye to our seniors. Graduation at Centenary has changed a lot in 140 commencements, most noticeably the number of graduates. 426 students will be graduating at Centenary College’s May 2015 commencement, a far cry from the 26 that graduated at Centenary Collegiate Institute’s June 1876 commencement!
Top: Cover of the 1876 Commencement Program
Right: The inside of the 1876 Commencement Program. This program is interesting because it folds in half at the top, not at the left.
Centenary’s early commencements consisted of several dramatic performances by the graduates. In 1876, for example, eighteen graduates presented essays and orations, the last being the Valedictory Speech.
The last week of college has always been planned to hold some memorable events for graduating seniors. In the early years the students held Class Day, where their senior year was commemorated in speech and song.
Top: Class Day program, 1878
Right:The Class Song of 1878
Seniors would present a class history, prophecy, resolutions, class mementos, and sing the class song (every class had its own song, written by its students). Class Day evolved into a talent show with less emphasis on Centenary history.
In the mid 1900s students held a ceremony called “Song on the Steps”. There was a tradition that stated only seniors were supposed to use the front steps of the Main Building, so the ceremony was intended to ‘give’ the steps to the freshmen, as they became the next class of seniors (Centenary College was a two year school then). Seniors would congregate on the steps and sing a few songs, including their class song, and then file off the steps to make way for the freshmen, who would take their place on the steps and sing their class song. There was more singing by the two classes to end the ceremony.
One event that has continued into the present day is the President’s Ball. It’s a dance now, but 75 years ago it was the President’s reception and President’s dance. Today’s commencements combine a lot of the activities students in years past would have held over two or three days, so the reception might have been merged with commencement over the years.
The Valedictory Address of 1886 begins with these words:
“To-day there is a sadder task to perform than here-tofore. Welcome brings with it joy and greeting- farewell sorrow and parting.”
Although commencement is a time to say goodbye, it’s also a time to look back fondly at the time spent at your Alma Mater, and look forward at what’s to come. Although we are sad to see our seniors go, we are excited for them as they take on whatever comes next.