Friday, May 20, 2016

Digitization of FSU's historic commencement programs

The Lewis J. Ort Library congratulates the Class of 2016 on its commencement! In honor of this occasion, the library offers a glimpse into our institution’s earlier commencement ceremonies. The library has been digitizing FSU’s historic commencement programs from Special Collections to put online in our institutional repository, eScholarship@Frostburg. The programs have been scanned and provided as OCR-compatible PDFs.
Originally, Frostburg State University was State Normal School No. 2 and, later, Frostburg State Teachers College. The commencement programs show varying sizes of graduation classes through the years. The majority of graduates hailed from Allegany and Garrett Counties. Meanwhile, changing ceremony formats often reflect the spirit of the historical period. For decades, Tasker G. Lowndes, President of the State Board of Education, awarded diplomas while the current school president conferred degrees. Administration officials were predominately male. However, a few female State Board of Education members are listed in commencement programs. By 1945, college president John S. Dunkle had passed the reins to Lillian C. Compton.
Ceremony programs include either an invocation or a prayer from a clergy member. Growing patriotism leading up to and during WWII is reflected in the ceremonies. State Teachers College commencements featured Henry Carey’s patriotic “America” (“My Country ‘Tis of Thee”) in the 1939 to 1941 programs. By 1942, flag salutes and Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner” were integrated into the commencement ceremony and continued to be a fixture. The commencements also had somber moments that were personal. In 1950, John J. Stapleton of Frostburg was awarded his degree posthumously.
Music plays a large role in the degree-conferring spectacle. Commencement ceremony participants were treated to whimsical music selections both vocal and instrumental that included popular selections, folk songs, classical music, and religious music. Earlier commencements featured glee clubs singing breezy selections, such as the Men’s Glee Club’s performance of “In the Garden of Your Heart” in 1926. Later, the light-hearted glee clubs made way for choral groups, including the Maryland Singers who often sang operatic selections, such as “Hail to Isis” from Verdi’s Aïda in 1939. Likewise, orchestral selections changed in tone depending on the year. The 1926 program lists the “Indian Cradle Song.” Whereas, the 1949 commencement featured three musical selections from Richard Wagner.
While “Pomp and Circumstance” is considered a classic processional or recessional for graduation these days, it only shows up occasionally in these historic commencement programs. A college or university’s unique aspects are often expressed in its school’s song. In early programs, the “School Song” song, from Pinsuti, was often performed by the student chorus or student body prior to the recessional. By 1939, the program replaces the “School Song” with the “State Teachers College Song,” attributed to alum George W. Walburn (Class of 1937). Presumably, this song underwent revision as subsequent programs (1940-1954) indicate the performance of the “State Teachers College Song.” The song is then attributed to “Adapted” with no mention of Walburn.
Digitization work for commencement programs is ongoing. Click on these links to view the commencement programs for State Normal School and State Teachers College.

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