Commencement ceremony changes over time


Commencement changes the lives of departing graduates. But the ceremony itself also changes.

Many things about the ceremony have changed since Dero Downing, chairman of the College Heights Foundation, walked across the stage of Van Meter Auditorium to receive his diploma in June 1943.

Family and friends sat behind the graduates in Van Meter that year. Faculty on stage faced about 200 graduates, Downing said.

About 1,400 graduates will participate in Saturday’s ceremony at Smith Stadium, Registrar Freida Eggleton said.

World War II made Downing’s graduating class predominately female. Even though Downing had joined the Navy, he was allowed to graduate on the condition that he went to midshipman’s school not long after graduation.

Western graduates didn’t always receive their diploma’s one at a time.

For years, students were graduated a college at a time. Eggleton said commencement for her bachelor’s and master’s degree’s were like this.

She said during the late 1980s, President Thomas Meredith decided students should be individually recognized for their efforts.

What was once an hour-and-a-half long ceremony increased to three hours after the change, Eggleton said.

As the number of graduates increased in the mid-1990s, commencement was separated into two ceremonies, one in May and the other in December, she said.

Three years after graduation in 1946, Downing returned to Western as an employee. Paul Garrett was Western’s president at the time and put Kelly Thompson Sr. in charge of planning the ceremony, Downing said.

Downing said Thompson was meticulous in making sure every detail was attended to.

“Thompson was a master at holding these events in a beautiful manner,” he said.

Provost Barbara Burch said this year’s commencement would be especially important to Eggleton.

In previous years, Eggleton helped organize commencement. She said she is delegating her commencement responsibilities this year to the associate registrar’s and others so she can attend her son Loren’s graduation at the University of Kentucky.

“As a mother, my first priority is with my son,” she said.

She said Burch will be recognizing honor students in her place and Lois Hall, administrative assistant in Academic Affairs, is assisting the dean of each college with handing scrolls to the graduates.

While Eggleton is confident that her replacements will do a good job, she plans to stay in touch with associate registrar Marleen Murphy during the build-up to commencement.

A guest speaker usually attends commencement ceremonies. This year, Sen. Mitch McConnell will speak and receive an honorary doctorate, Eggleton said.

Past speakers included Pepsi Cola president Don Kendall and Gov. Bert Combs, Downing said. Burch will present the degree to McConnell.

This year’s graduates will be more comfortable in their gowns than in the past. Downing and Eggleton wore gowns made out of a heavy material called Popline.

“Some things never change about commencement,” Burch said.

Reach Bobby Harrell at [email protected]