UVa Graduation: Past and Present

Last week, a plethora of black caps and gowns paraded down the coruscating lawn. With laughs, tears, and a ton of smiles, UVa’s Class of 2016 wore the honors of honor and graduated from the University of Virginia. It was a time of celebration and reflection, a time of independence and appreciation. The school of Arts and Sciences went first, receiving their diplomas on Saturday, May 21st, while the school of Medicine, Law, Engineering, Curry, Architecture, Nursing, Commerce, and Batten joined their fellow graduates on Sunday, May 22nd.

Graduation takes place on the cascading green lawn, with the Rotunda welcoming the parents, students, and faculty on one end, and Old Cabell Hall on the other. Students are given their diploma in a mass ceremony, as opposed to one by one name calling due to size, and then the degree recipients meet with their schools for the department ceremony. However, modern-day graduation did not begin this way; in fact, many necessary changes have occurred since the original accomplishment ceremony of 1892.

In 1892, the University of Virginia held a “Public Day” in the dome of the Rotunda. Students received their degree, signaling their time at the University was complete. The Public Day ceremony was held in the Rotunda until it burned down in 1895 and then it was moved to Cabell Hall auditorium.

In 1905, President Alderman changed the ceremony to a more formal procession, similar to today’s procedure. Graduation was also moved to the amphitheater after its completion in 1921. Students would march down the lawn to the amphitheater during this ceremony, beginning the “walking the lawn” tradition that is embedded with honor and success.

In 1949, rain interrupted the ceremony and caused President Colgate Darden to claim that the finals ceremony would no longer be held in the amphitheater. It was then moved to the lawn, except in the event of bad weather.

This year, Commonwealth Professor of English Rita F. Dove spoke on Saturday to the graduating Arts and Sciences class. Dean of Law Paul G. Mahoney addressed graduates on Sunday. During the Sunday ceremony, in which a variety of schools received their diplomas, each dean presented the degrees to their appropriate school.

The ceremonies ended with the Good Ole Song, as each student grabbed hands and sang with a variety of emotions and thoughts running through their heads. With black caps on their heads and black gowns on their body, each graduate was bonded by the excitement and pride that graduating from the University of Virginia brings and has brought since 1892.


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