Commencement: A century of Pomp & Circumstance

The close of both the spring and fall semesters at UW-Eau Claire also signify the close of many undergraduate and graduate careers, as they walk across the stage in cap and gown at their commencement ceremony.  Unlike the grand, two-ceremony commencement days of today, prior graduation days took place on a much smaller scale.  The first graduating class in 1917 was comprised of 66 students, including only one man.  As the Eau Claire State Normal School, an institution primarily for the education of teachers, it granted diplomas and teaching certificates rather than baccalaureate degrees, which it would first issue when it became the Eau Claire State Teachers College in 1927.  A reception for the graduating class was also held, at first at the college president’s house and then in the school gymnasium once enrollment demanded a larger location.

At the beginning, graduation ceremonies were held in what is now Schofield Auditorium.   An “Order of March” was written up for the use of graduates, outlining the strict rules directing the ceremony.  The dress code discouraged tan or brown shoes that would clash with the black robes, as did it dictate that mortar boards were not to be worn at a jaunty angle.  It also stated that “the receipt of the diploma should be acknowledged by a slight bow.”  While many of the rules, such as the order of the line of march, remain the same or similar, the guidelines for commencement have become more lenient with time.  The venue has also changed: Zorn Arena, built in 1952, was a much needed improvement on the cramped quarters of Schofield Auditorium.  It has been the site of commencement ever since.

See gallery of archived images below.

With the introduction of master’s programs at the university came a new piece of graduation regalia: master’s hoods.  In August of 1964, the first Masters of Science degrees were awarded in a small, informal ceremony without the use of any sort of master’s regalia.  President Leonard Haas decreed that all future commencements would be of a formal nature with formal dress, including hoods for those earning a graduate degree.  The hoods, as described by the manufacturer E. R. Moore Company, were “a single chevron with the field of California Gold and the chevron of Royal Blue.”  They made their first appearance at the August commencement ceremony in 1965.

The crowning achievement of every student’s academic career, commencement holds a special place on campus at the end of each semester.  Although traditions such as the August commencement ceremony and the small reception for the graduating class may have vanished over time, the meaning remains the same: one phase of life has ended, while another is just beginning.

Scroll through photo gallery of recent commencement images below.