On August 6, 1845, the first University of Michigan Commencement was held in the Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor. At that time, the only division of the University was the Literary Department. Each member of the class of 1845, which consisted of eleven men, was required to give an oration. The event was chronicled in the Michigan State Gazette of Jackson on August 11, 1845, as follows:
Correspondence of the State Gazette
Editor of the Gazette,
Dear Sir: — In compliance with your request, I will give you such notes as I made of the commencement exercises of the University held in Ann Arbor Wednesday the 6th instant. This is the first regular "commencement" of our University, and its proceedings were viewed with much interest, by members from various parts of the State who had gathered to witness the proceedings. Michigan may well be proud of possessing such an institution as her University, which, although originated among the numerous extravagant schemes of the Mason Administration, yet remains a permanent blessing to the people, and although its funds have been somewhat crippled during the last few years, on account of the pressure of the times preventing that sale of the lands with which she was endowed, that was anticipated, still much good substantial learning has been diffused by its agency, and many young Page 1776ideas moulded for usefulness and honor. The proceedings of this commencement were unusually interesting, from the fact of its being the first time it has furnished a graduating class, or conferred degrees, and much solicitude was felt to see what would be the first fruits of the State's literary bantling.
The procession was formed at the University grounds at ten o'clock Wednesday morning and marched to the Presbyterian church, where the exercises were appointed to be held and in which a platform had been erected and arrangements made.
I noticed on the platform a number of the Regents, the Governor, Judges Fitch, Whipple, and Goodwin, and other dignitaries of the State, and a number of clergymen among whom was Mr. Fitch of our own town to whom was assigned the introductory prayer.
And here I would like, were it not too invidious, where all performed their part so creditably, to mention particularly the pleasure which I experienced in listening to the addresses of some of the speakers. The salutatory address was by Edmund Fish of Bloomfield, delivered in that peculiarly stately and harmonious idiom, the Latin, and was followed by a beautiful address from Edwin Lawrence of Monroe, on the subject of romance, who reviewed the classic days of Greece and Rome, the subsequent dark ages of Europe, and the adventurous times of the Crusaders, in a manner peculiarly elegant and graceful.
An address by P. W. H. Rawls of Kalamazoo, on "the perfection of philosophy" was particularly eloquent and well composed, and delivered with superior diction and purity of style, and also a poem, "The Nazarene," by the same person, was extremely well composed and eloquently delivered. An address by George E. Parmelee of Ann Arbor, on "the proper direction of intellectual effort," displayed much variety of thought and finish of composition combined with an accomplished and interesting delivery.
"The claims of agriculture and science" was presented by George W. Pray of Washtenaw, in an address replete with forcible argument and sound practical logic, and was highly creditable to him both for its sentiments, and the manner of its delivery. It exhibited the claims of agriculture to the attention of scientific men, and the benefits to the country of science so directed, in a masterly manner, illustrated by much vigor of thought and sound reasoning.
A Greek poem, by Thomas B. Cuming of Grand Rapids, was recited in an elegant and interesting manner, by its youthful author, who though in appearance still a freshman was among those who received the degree of Bachelor of Arts.
The valedictory address was by Fletcher O. Marsh of Kalamazoo, who well acquitted himself in the part assigned him. His reference to the past history of the University to the long association of teachers and students, and the prospect of their immediate parting, and his allusions to the sudden decease of their respected President was peculiarly affecting and appropriate.
Degrees were conferred on eleven graduates.
The music from a choir composed mostly of students, with which the exercises were interspersed was throughout excellent, — The address to the graduating class was by Professor Tenbrook.
In the afternoon a society of alumni was formed and an address delivered before the literary societies by Rev. Mr. Duffield of Detroit, with his usual ability.
Yours, truly, J. M. T.
Ann Arbor, August 7, 1845.
[J. M. T. = Jerome M. Treadwell.]
The custom of having each member of the class give an oration was continued until the classes became so large that it was impossible; thereafter a few graduates were chosen to participate in the program. This was not a very satisfactory arrangement, however, as it was difficult to choose the representatives of the class fairly. The dissatisfaction with the past method of conducting the Commencement exercises, together with the fact that in 1878 for the first time the Commencement exercises of the Literary and Medical departments were held together, led to the issuing of an invitation Page 1777to an outside speaker to give the Commencement address.
Up to 1878 each department of the University held its Commencement separately. In 1878 the term of the Medical Department was extended to June and the exercises of the Literary and Medical departments were combined. From 1884 on, the Commencement exercises of all departments were held in June.
Until 1874 the graduation exercises were held in the different churches in Ann Arbor, and occasionally in the hall of the Union School Building. With the completion of University Hall, the University campus had, for the first time, an auditorium large enough to take care of the crowd of townspeople and parents who attended the Commencement exercises.
University Hall continued to be the center of Commencement activities until Hill Auditorium was opened. A few years after World War I Commencement exercises were transferred to Ferry Field or to Yost Field House, depending on weather conditions. The exercises are now held in the Stadium in good weather.
The present order of exercises consists of the national anthem, the invocation, the address to the graduating classes, the conferring of degrees (including honorary degrees), the response of the graduating classes, the welcome to the Alumni Association, singing "The Yellow and Blue," and benediction.