The Honor of Your Presence: Commencement Invitations and Programs Throughout the Years

This weekend, Davidson will host its 177th commencement – congratulations, class of 2014! Commencement at Davidson has certainly changed over the years, but some things have remained constant – namely, the necessity of invitations and programs detailing the event. This week, let’s a take a look at some examples of these early college publications…

This "Order of the Exercises" from 1842 is an excellent example of what early commencement ceremonies at Davidson were like. William Lee Davidson's speech, "Thoughts of a Student on leaving College" would likely hit a chord with this year's graduates as well.

This “Order of the Exercises” from 1842 is an excellent example of what early commencement ceremonies at Davidson were like. William Lee Davidson’s speech, “Thoughts of a Student on leaving College” would likely hit a chord with this year’s graduates as well.

 

The Eumenean and Philanthropic literary societies began holding oratorical exercises at commencement in 1848, and were responsible for planning all activities until 1881. This 1853 program illustrates a typical series of events from those years.

The Eumenean and Philanthropic literary societies began holding oratorical exercises at commencement in 1848, and were responsible for planning all activities until 1881. This 1853 program illustrates a typical series of events from those years.

 

The 1870s and '80s were the golden years of commencement invitation design at Davidson, as this 1875 invitation to Misses Sallie and Mary Lafferty from the two literary societies demonstrates.

The 1870s through the 1910s were the golden years of commencement invitation design at Davidson, as this 1875 invitation to Misses Sallie and Mary Lafferty from the two literary societies demonstrates.

 

One 1876 invitation in our collections featured a bookplate of sorts, most likely used to identify the sender as Archie Dalton.

One 1876 invitation in our collections featured a bookplate of sorts, most likely used to identify the sender as Archie Dalton.

 

The 1888 commencement Order of Exercises includes a number of interesting-sounding speeches - one imagines that the average Davidson student has certainly "Learn[ed] to Labor and to Wait" by graduation!

The 1880 commencement Order of Exercises includes a number of interesting-sounding speeches – one imagines that the average Davidson student has certainly “Learn[ed] to Labor and to Wait” by graduation!

This 1884 commencement invitation features versions of the state seals of North and South Carolina, as well as some recurring themes, such as palm trees, an oil lamp, and an owl.

This 1884 commencement invitation features versions of the state seals of North and South Carolina, as well as some recurring themes, such as palm trees, an oil lamp, and an owl. This was only the second year that the list of graduating students was printed in the commencement program.

 

The literary society members in 1887 appear to have had a hard time deciding on fonts for their commencement invitations, so they chose to use all of them.

The literary society members in 1887 appear to have had a hard time deciding on fonts for Davidson’s 50th anniversary commencement invitations, so they chose to use all of them.

 

A note on the commencement invitation of 1892 notes that this was "The Class of Great Preachers" - of seventeen graduates, eleven went on to enter the ministry.

A note on the commencement invitation of 1892 refers to this as “The Class of Great Preachers” – of seventeen graduates, eleven went on to enter the ministry.

 

This elaborate commencement booklet from 1903 illustrates the Davidson graduate as he left campus for the next phase of life - The Future!

This elaborate commencement booklet from 1903 illustrates the Davidson graduate as he left campus for the next phase of life – The Future.

 

From 1912 until the late 1920s, commencement programs came in a variety of formats - including some bound in leather, as this 1912 example indicates.

From 1912 until the late 1920s, commencement programs came in a variety of formats – including some bound in leather, as this 1912 example indicates.

 

By the 1890s, fraternities on campus began to plan commencement activities separate from the literary societies. The Pan-Hellenic Council of 1913 distributed a sort of "dance card" for commencement activities - this booklet belonged to Maud Vinson, who was sponsored by John Burns Jr.

By the 1890s, fraternities on campus began to plan commencement activities separate from the literary societies. The Pan-Hellenic Council of 1913 distributed a sort of “dance card” for commencement activities – this booklet belonged to Maud Vinson, who was sponsored by John Burns Jr.

 

The interior of Miss Vinson's commencement activities booklet - Davidson gentleman would sign up to squire the female visitors to the various commencement week activities.

The interior of Miss Vinson’s commencement activities booklet – Davidson gentlemen would sign up to squire the female visitors to the various commencement week activities.

 

The 1928 commencement program was one of the last to have a leather cover. This design features the columns of the Old Chambers building, left standing until 1929 after the fire that destroyed the building eight years prior.

The 1928 commencement program was one of the last to have a leather cover. This design features the columns of the Old Chambers building, left standing until 1929 after the fire that destroyed the building eight years prior.

 

The 1947 Baccalaureate Sermon, given by Professor Kenneth J. Foreman (Class of 1911) exhorted students to examine their behaviors and develop good habits now... before it's too late: "Youth is a lovely glass container with nothing in it, it is a book in which all the pages are blank, I mean the youth you have still to life, the rest of it..."

The 1947 Baccalaureate Sermon, given by Professor Kenneth J. Foreman (Class of 1911) exhorted students to examine their behaviors and develop good habits now… before it’s too late: “Youth is a lovely glass container with nothing in it, it is a book in which all the pages are blank, I mean the youth you have still to live, the rest of it…I do not need to tell you about habits and how useful good ones are and how terrible bad ones can be. What I am saying is that these next ten years are your last chance to do anything about it.”

 

Since the early 1920s, commencement invitations have maintained the same language and layout, with a few font changes, as this example from 1966 demonstrates.

Since the early 1920s, commencement invitations have maintained the same language and layout, with a few font changes, as this example from 1966 demonstrates.

 

Like commencement invitations, the cover design of the program has also remained fairly static, in this case since the late 1950s. This white-on-white embossed cover is from 1980.

Like commencement invitations, the cover design of the program has also remained fairly static, in this case since the late 1950s. This white-on-white embossed cover is from commencement 1980.

 

1987 was Davidson's sesquicentennial year, and the cover for the President's Supper evokes earlier commencement publications.

1987 was Davidson’s sesquicentennial year, and the cover for the President’s Supper evokes earlier commencement publications.

 

By the mid twentieth century, Davidson's commencement invitations included a small card with the schedule of events printed on it. This example from 1987 includes the sesquicentennial logo designed by Burkey Belser (class of 1969)

By the mid twentieth century, Davidson’s commencement invitations included a small card with the schedule of events printed on it. This example from 1987 includes the sesquicentennial logo designed by Burkey Belser (class of 1969).

 

So graduates, guests, and members of the Davidson community: as you attend commencement events this weekend, take a look at the invitations, programs, and schedules you’re being handed, and hearken back to these earlier examples of college culture!

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