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Virginia Tech Historical Data Book, Section 4.8:
Commencements


The first final exercises at VAMC were held at the end of the year even though there were no graduates. The exercises began on Sunday, July 6, 1873, and ended the following Wednesday night. Events included religious ceremonies, inspections, orations by students, and a review of the cadets. Gov. Gilbert C. Walker was the main speaker at the first finals and spoke on "The Present and Future of the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Connection with General Education."

The first graduating class was in 1875, when 12 students received their diplomas (not degrees) for completion of a three-year course of study. The finals were held that year on Aug. 11. The first degrees were presented in 1883.

The Finals program was enlarged after 1889 to include two baccalaureate services, an alumni orator, a cadet ball, and a sham battle staged by cadets. By 1898, finals had been expanded to a six-day program, including a senior dance, dress parade and review, a dramatic presentation, religious services, competitive drills, receptions, sham battle, band concert, essay presentations, and orations by members of the Lee and Maury Literary Societies.

After Paul B. Barringer became president in 1907, Commencement exercises were shortened considerably. His successor, J.D. Eggleston, expanded them again. Since then, Commencement has been expanded or contracted to meet the circumstances of the times. During World War II, Commencement exercises were held more than once a year because of an accelerated program. From 1958-62 duplicate ceremonies were held in Burruss Auditorium, with part of the class graduating in the morning and the other in the afternoon because of the auditorium's seating capacity limitation. Separate academic college ceremonies, following an all-university ceremony, were held for the first time in June 1971 at various campus locations.

COMMENCEMENT SITES - 1873-79, Blacksburg Methodist Church; 1880-91, "Pavilion" and Second Academic Building; 1892, a large tent on campus; 1893-95, "Pavilion"; 1896-1904, Commencement Hall; 1905-14, Old Chapel (Library); 1915-21, Commencement Hall; 1922, a large tent on campus (Semi-Centennial); 1923-26, Commencement Hall; 1927-35, Memorial Gym; 1936-49, Burruss Auditorium; 1950-57, Miles Stadium; 1958-62, Burruss Auditorium (dual ceremonies); 1963-68, Coliseum; 1969-70, Lane Stadium; 1971, Lane Stadium (all-university), plus separate college ceremonies at various locations, following.

COMMENCEMENT REGALlA - The first time the faculty and graduates wore academic regalia at Commencement was at the 1922 Semi-Centennial exercise.

DIPLOMAS - The original VAMC diploma (1875-94) was 12 inches wide and 18 inches long. From 1895-62, the size was 17 inches wide by 14 inches deep. An 11-inch-wide by 8-1/2-inch-deep diploma in a hard-back folder was adopted in 1963.

SALUTATORIAN AND VALEDICTORIAN - The practice of having a salutatorian and valedictorian speak at Commencement was begun in 1882, with the selections based on class academic rank. The selections were made on the basis of popularity from 1916-20 and on the basis of scholarship from 1921-36. The practice was discontinued after 1936.

COMMENCEMENT SPEAKERS - 1873, Gov. Gilbert C. Walker; 1874, Maj. Richard V. Gaines; 1875, Col. Frank G. Ruffin; 1876, Gen. James H. Williams of Winchester; 1877, Robert Beverly of Fauquier; 1878, Prof. John L. Buchanan, Emory and Henry College; 1879, C.A. Bohannon; 1880-86, unknown; 1887, Gov. Fitzhugh Lee; 1888 and 1889, Thomas Whitehead, commissioner of agriculture; 1890-91, unknown; 1892, Col. A.S. Buford; 1893, unknown; 1894 and 1895, Claude A. Swanson, later Virginia governor; 1896, C.W. Dabney; 1897, George C. Cabell; 1898, unknown; 1899, Prof. Francis H. Smith, University of Virginia; 1900, Peter J. Otey.

1901, Prof. W.M. Thornton; 1902, Gov. A.J. Montague; 1903, A.C. Braxton of Staunton; 1904, R.L. Edmonds, editor of Manufacturer's Record; 1905, C.A. Smith; 1906, Gov. Claude A. Swanson; 1907, Carlton McCarthy, mayor of Richmond; 1908, W.W. Finley, president of Southern Railway; 1909, Carter Glass, Virginia senator; 1910, C.R. Davis, congressman from Minnesota; 1911, W.W. Kitchen, governor of North Carolina; 1912, E.F. Swinney, Kansas City, Mo., banker and industrialist; 1913, Rosewell Page, second auditor of Virginia; 1914, Gov. Henry C. Stuart; 1915, Walter R. Staples, Roanoke judge.

1916, William H. Mann, former Virginia governor; 1917, J.D. Eggleston, VPI president; 1918, R. Holman Willis, member of General Assembly from Roanoke; 1919, Gov. Westmoreland Davis; 1920, Col. LeRoy Hodges, governor's aide; 1921, Gov. Westmoreland Davis; 1922, William E. Dodd '95, University of Chicago professor; 1923, Harris Hart, state superintendent of public instruction; 1924, William T. Sanger, secretary, State Board of Education; 1925, R.B. Tunstall, president of Virginia Bar Association; 1926, J. C. Metcalf, dean of University of Virginia graduate department; 1927, Gov. Harry F. Byrd; 1928, J.P. Fishburn, president of Times-World Corp., Roanoke; 1929, F. Donaldson Brown, vice president, General Motors Corp.; 1930, Col. James P. Woods, member of VPI Board of Visitors.

1931, J.G. Bohannon, chairman of Virginia Port Authority; 1932, J. Luther Johns '97, Chicago patent attorney; 1933, Kendall Weisiger '99, assistant to president, Southern Bell Telephone; 1934, J.D. Eggleston, president of Hampden-Sydney College; 1935, Ashton Dovell, member of Virginia House of Delegates; 1936, Gov. George C. Peery; 1937, Lt. Gov. James H. Price; 1938, William E. Dodd '95, ambassador to Germany; 1939, Allen A. Stockdale, National Association of Manufacturers; 1940, Julian A. Burruss '19, VPI president; 1941, Kendall Weisiger '99, vice-president, American Telephone and Telegraph.

1942 (March), E.B. Norris, VPI dean of engineering; 1942 (June), Julian A. Burruss, VPI president; 1942 (Sept.), T.W. Knote, head of business administration at VPI; 1942 (Dec.), P.H. McGauhey, professor of sanitary engineering at VPI; 1943 (March), R.H. McNeil, VPI director of public relations; 1943 (May), Paul H. Farrier, associate professor of English at VPI; 1944 (March), Walter Rautenstrauch, professor of industrial engineering, Columbia University; 1944 (May), John W. Whittemore, associate dean of engineering and head of ceramic engineering at VPI; 1944 (Sept.), W.C. Yang, president of Soochow University, China; 1945 (March), H.L. Price, VPI dean of agriculture; 1945 (May), Roy J. Holden, head of geology at VPI; 1945 (Sept.), Col. R.B.H. Begg '99, head of civil engineering at VPI; 1945 (Dec.), M.C. Harrison, head of English at VPI; 1946 (May), W.S. Newman '19, VPI vice-president; 1946 (Sept.), D.H. Pletta, professor of applied mechanics.

1947, Gen. James A. Anderson, Virginia State Highway Commission; 1948, Louis V. Sutton '10, president of Carolina Light and Power; 1949, Edward McCrady, biologist, Atomic Energy Commission; 1950, W.S. Newman '19, VPI president; 1951, Graham Claytor '06, operating executive of American Gas and Electric; 1952, W.S. Newman '19, VPI president; 1953, Clem D. Johnston, vice president of U.S. Chamber of Commerce; 1954, Elmer L. Kayser, dean of George Washington University; 1955, Gov. Thomas B. Stanley.

1956, Virginius Dabney, editor of Richmond Times-Dispatch; 1957, Irwin Stewart, president of West Virginia University; 1958, Paul N. Garber, bishop of Virginia Methodist Conference, and J. Manning Potts, editor of The Upper Room; 1959, John N. Thomas, professor of systematic theology, Union Theological Seminary; 1960, Albertis S. Harrison Jr., Virginia attorney general; 1961, Maj. Gen. John M. Devine, VPI commandant of cadets; 1962, Colgate W. Darden Jr., former Virginia governor; 1963, Lt. Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr.

1964, J.G. Farrar, president of the Rockefeller Foundation; 1965, Gov. Albertis S. Harrison Jr.; 1966, T. Marshall Hahn Jr., VPI president; 1967, Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr.; 1968-70, T. Marshall Hahn Jr., VPI president; 1971, Gov. Linwood Holton; 1972, David Brinkley, NBC News correspondent.

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