Commencement

SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN

Commencement speeches should be thought-provoking and inspiring. The graduating students, thinking their days of education are now behind them, hopefully realize there are a myriad of opportunities to learn, teach, and grow ahead of them.

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Centenary has had many commencement speakers over the years that have talked about the future, self-reflection, and the quest for knowledge. Although the Library Archives don’t have the text of the speech given on May 17th, 1975, we can expect that it was inspiring and funny, especially with a title like “You Can Bet Your Sweet Life!”

That speech was given by The Honorable Senator Joseph R. Biden, who went on to become the 47th Vice President of the United States under Barack Obama. At the time of his commencement speech, he was a senator from Delaware serving his first term. Here is his biography from the student newspaper, Spilled Ink:

“Senator Biden, who was elected to the United States Senate in 1972 for a six-year term, is a member of the Senate Democratic Steering Committee. His senatorial activities include membership on the committees of Foreign Relations, Budget, National Ocean Study Policy Group for the Senate and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs as well as the subcommittees on Consumer Credit, International Finance, Securities, Production and Stabilization. In 1974 he was selected as one of ten ”Outstanding Young Men of the Year” by the U.S.

Joe Biden 1

Senator Biden with President Seay

National Jaycees and was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal for Outstanding Achievement by Syracuse University, New York. Since 1973 he has been honorary chairman of the Leukemia Society of Delaware. A native of Scranton, Pa., Senator Biden is an alumnus of Archmere Academy in Delaware, graduated from the University of Delaware at Newark with a B.A. degree in 1965 and three years later received a J.D. from Syracuse University College of Law. Before his election to the Senate he practiced as a trial lawyer for four years and served as a member of the New Castle (Del.) County Council from 1970-72.”

Senator Biden is scheduled for 100th commencement. (1975, April 30). Spilled Ink. p. 1.

 

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COMMENCEMENT WEEK

 

As each school year draws to a close, we tend to reminisce on the previous few years, when our graduating seniors were freshmen or new transfers. We’re excited to see how much they’ve grown over the years, and we’re especially excited to see them walk at graduation!

The activities of commencement week have become routine for many – Commencement Rehearsal, the President’s Ball, the Baccalaureate Ceremony, Brunch, and finally, Commencement – but Commencement week is also a time for students to enjoy their last week and to reflect on their journey at Centenary. This tradition has been celebrated every year since the school first opened with the exception of one – the Commencement of 1875.

Centenary’s first ever commencement week was very different from any other commencement week the school has ever held. Why? Well, because no one graduated! Several students applied to enter a year of work culminating in graduation, but Centenary’s first president, Dr. Whitney, refused them all. He was setting the highest possible standard for his students’ education, and he didn’t feel one year of work was enough to prepare them for university.

Cresset_1967.03

Dalton’s history of the school is highlighted in Centenary’s special alumni bulletin.

Although there were no graduates, Commencement week 1875 still had the Baccalaureate sermon, the President’s Reception, Commencement, and a meal (in this case, dinner). Prizes were also awarded for outstanding students. In that way, very little has changed about Commencement week practices. According to the 1967 anniversary edition of the Cresset, the school still held a commencement program in 1875 to mark the success of the school’s first year. The following year, there was a real first commencement with 30 graduates from the Women’s College and the Preparatory Department (Dalton, 25).

“For Students, Trustees, all Ministers and their Wives, all strangers from a distance…the ‘Commencement Dinner’ was always a great affair – beautiful to see – delightful to eat. Everybody was satisfied, everybody was happy – the Seniors and their friends – all students and their friends – all felt the charm of the occasion. Ice cream of several kinds, and in very great abundance was always at the close – the dishes were large, very large – and a second one if desired” (Whitney).

Commencement Program 1876

Program, Commencement 1876, the first year students graduated and possibly the first year the school printed a program. Archival staff is unaware of a program for Commencement 1875.

 

 

Custard, L. R. (1947). Through golden years: 1867-1943. New York, NY: Lewis Historical   Publishing Company, Inc.

Dalton, Ernest R. “Centenary – A century of change.” Cresset, vol. 50, no. 1, March 1967,      pp. 21 – 43.

Whitney, George. Autobiography. N.d.

 

 

COMMENCEMENT

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!

Commencement Program 18761876 commencement2

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.

Class Day program, 1878 The class song of 1878

 

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.

Songs on the Steps May 31 1965_2

Songs on the Steps, May 31, 1965. The Seniors are in line on the left side of the driveway, freshmen on the right.

Songs on the Steps May 31 1965

Another view of the students during the May 31, 1965 Songs on the Steps. Students are lined up on the driveway in front of the Seay Building, which used to be a real driveway used by the college.

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.

Graduating class of 1936

Graduating class of 1936

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.