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Commencement Traditions Change

High school seniors today are often graduated with a minimum of ceremony. But for our parents and grandparents commencement was an elaborate affair, with most graduates actively participating. Sometimes each senior prepared a special essay and delivered it from the platform to an audience of admiring friends and relatives. By 1900 these traditional student orations, so painstakingly prepared, were being discontinued. Substituted was an address by a well-known speaker not connected with the school-although traditionalists sometimes opposed this new practice.

Omaha High School's High School Register in October 1901 disapproved of such a prospective change in commencement procedure. The Register, a monthly school publication, said, "The class of 1901 showed very poor judgment when they decided to ask for a speaker for commencement instead of having class representatives. We are surprised that the members of this class do not want to have a program consisting of interesting essays and orations by the most talented speakers which the High School has produced for many years. Although these speakers are well known by the students, they have never had a good opportunity of displaying their genius to a large gathering of Omaha's citizens.

"Perhaps it is that the pupils are afraid of a little extra work. This does not necessarily mean that all must write essays or orations; there are other ways of selecting the speakers.

"There are many objections to having a single speaker; in the first place the parents do not have an opportunity such as would be presented on that occasion of hearing their children when at their best, secondly at that time of the year great speakers are in demand by the numberless colleges and high schools all over the country and it is not likely that we could procure one who would be a fit substitute for the excellent program which this class could present.

"One speaker of mediocre ability, talking for two hours on the same subject makes it very tiresome even for people whose minds have been educated to great concentration. Then the speaker's advice to the students will most likely be but a repetition of the words of the minister selected to preach the baccalaureate sermon, and this advice, instead of stimulating the minds of the graduates to do greater things will exhaust their patience."

(May 2008)



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