Commencement

The first Commencement at Wheaton College was held on July 4, 1860 for a senior class of 7 people. At that time there was no place on campus large enough for the event, so the graduates "assembled at the College chapel and proceeded to the Methodist Episcopal Church, where they were to meet the ladies and any townspeople who wished to join the procession to Jewell's Grove. Led by the county sheriff, and enlivened by the Naperville Brass Band, the company reached their destination, some two miles northwest of the college, ready for the exercises at ten o'clock." Each graduate delivered an original oration followed by music with George H. Beecher, son of Rev. Edward Beecher, speaking on "The Theory of Popular Amusements. Illinois Institute President, Lucius Matlack, shared the duties of the day with Jonathan Blanchard. Three of the graduates that day came with Blanchard from Knox (Bechtel, p. 25-26).

According to Ella Norwood Bissell, Lemuel Stratton, an 1860 graduate, relayed a story of that first commencement (also called the seventh). "During a meeting held the night before, when a heavy rain was falling, President Jonathan Blanchard prayed with more than his usual fervor that, 'the vials of Heaven might be stopped.' Next morning was brighter and lovelier than ever, and as they assembled, one senior said to another, 'Do you remember how the President prayed last night?' 'Yes,' said his companion, 'and if he had just mentioned it, we could just as well have had this mud dried up too.'" (Alumni Quarterly, October 1931, p. 12).

With the addition of the west wing onto the main building in 1870 commencement could now be held on Wheaton’s campus. Since it’s beginning with 7 graduates Wheaton College’s annual bestowing of degrees upon graduates has grown and changed. Originally a chance to hear speeches and debates from the graduates, currently commencement activities last a weekend and a special guest is brought in to speak to the campus and new graduates. Many notable people have presented the commencement address at Wheaton College, with a good number of them being Wheaton graduates themselves. Controversy surrounded the 1985 commencement speaker, then Vice-President George Bush. A number of students, graduating seniors, and faculty boycotted the ceremony and protested against the Reagan administration and its policies.
Comments