Over 3,300 students are going to receive degrees from Iowa State University this week and proud parents, family members and friends will be attending the graduation ceremonies taking place this coming Friday and Saturday. If you’re at all interested in history, you might ask yourself what that first commencement was like here at Iowa State.
In November of 1872, almost 138 years ago, the first commencement activities began for the first graduates of Iowa Agricultural College (now Iowa State University). The activities took place over several days, beginning on Sunday with President Welch’s Baccalaureate Sermon and ending later that week with the commencement exercises – at which the graduates gave a brief speech. Twenty-six students graduated in that first class (24 men and 2 women). The College’s first president, Adonijah Strong Welch, gave his Baccalaureate Sermon as the opening of the week’s events. This speech has recently been scanned and added to the collection of documents we have on Scribd.
In the speech, Welch presents to the graduating students his advice for their future. “Trust nothing, I pray you, to chance or luck or to the hope that something will turn up…The world will honor you whenever you have proven that you can minister to its wants” (page 6). Throughout the speech he warns that fortune will not randomly stumble on the graduates, but instead they must work hard for success.
Welch’s comments on politicians is also an interesting section of the speech. As a former legislator himself before coming to Iowa State as its first president, he includes (pages 28-29) his frustrations with politicians. He also laments (at the end of page 28) that citizens have come to the conclusion that sometimes people of a “sensitive conscience” are not the best fit for politics! (Perhaps this is one of the reasons Welch left politics to come to Iowa State?) If you’re interested in finding out more about President Welch, the department also holds Welch’s papers. The collection’s finding aid can be found online.
And, in conclusion – Congratulations to all 2010 graduates!