THE GHOSTS OF COMMENCEMENT PAST
by Dr. Phillip Stone ’94,
Commencement traditions have evolved quite a bit at Wofford over the past 165 years, but some parts of the ceremonies have remained consistent. What has changed, what has remained the same and what are some newer traditions?
At a Wofford Commencement in the 19th century, most members of each graduating class had to give an address. Gradually, that tradition evolved to a few selected graduates giving addresses. Today an invited guest — in recent years, a distinguished graduate — gives the Commencement address. Commencement week used to feature a series of debates, an alumni banquet, receptions, the baccalaureate service and a presidential address, and finally the graduation ceremony itself. That has gradually evolved to two main ceremonies — a Baccalaureate and Commencement — and a few other celebratory events spanning Friday through Sunday of Commencement weekend.
It’s probably not a surprise that the location of the Commencement ceremony has moved several times, given the growth of the class and the college’s changing facilities. For the first 105 years, the ceremony was in Leonard Auditorium, the room that older alumni might remember calling “the chapel.” But, with postwar growth, the student body could no longer comfortably fit into Leonard, and so in 1960, Commencement moved outside to the front lawn of Main Building.
Part of the reason for an outdoor graduation may have been the renovation of Main Building around 1960 as well. Beginning in 1969, Commencement moved to Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium. A renovation of that location in 1999 brought Commencement back to the lawn of Main Building, where it has been, except for rainy days, for the past 20 years.