A Brief History of Graduation at Iowa State University

Photograph of white female student, long hair with glasses, close-up in a library office setting (cubicle & book shelves filled with books visible in the background).

Photograph courtesy of Cassandra.

This blog post was authored by Curation Services Student Writer Cassandra Anderson.

Can you believe that it is already April? The year has gone by so fast! The month of April brings warmer weather, spring rainstorms, and the end of the semester. For seniors, we are suddenly hit with the realization that we only have a few more weeks of being a Cyclone. Finals are just around the corner, and then it’s time for graduation! While getting ready for graduation myself, I wondered what it was like for seniors graduating from Iowa State over the last 147 years.

The first graduating class from Iowa State College graduated Wednesday, November 13th, 1872. That very first class of Iowa State students had 26 members, including 2 women! The ceremony was held at the West House in Ames, the first hotel in the area. To learn more about the first graduation and to see photos of the class of 1872, check out this earlier blog post by Outreach Archivist Rachel Seale!

Special Collections and University Archives is full of photos from various graduating classes over the years, so if you are interested in finding photos from a specific year, I would definitely recommend checking out boxes 1532-1572 of the university photos collection. While sorting through the boxes, I found these traditional gap and gown photos of Ward M. Jones from Allison, Iowa and Mary E. Barger from Ontario, Iowa. Ward and Mary were both members of the 1897 graduating class.

After finding the photos of Ward and Mary, I thought it might be interesting to see what degrees they earned. I pulled boxes 1-5 of the Graduation Programs collection, RS 07/09/04/01 and started looking for the 1897 commencement program. About halfway through box 1 of the collection, I found the folder I was looking for, titled “1897 Program”. The graduating class of 1897 was larger than that very first graduating class, but with only 58 people, that is still much smaller than my graduating class is going to be! Ward M. Jones graduated with a Bachelors of Civil Engineering, focused in “Comparative Tests in Building Stones” and Mary E. Barger graduated with a Bachelors of Science focused in “French Physiocrats”.

Title page of Commencement program, reads "Commencement of the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. Ames, Iowa. Wed. Evening, Nov. 10th, 1897, at 7:30 o'clock.

Title page for 1897 Commencement program (RS 7/9/4/01, box 1).

After learning about Mary and Ward, I can’t stop wondering about what other cool pieces of graduation history we might have lying around the archives. If you are interested in finding photos from graduations of the past, I would recommend looking in the Bomb, the University Archives, and the University photograph collection! I found so many cool photos while writing this blog post, I wish that I could include them all. Check out this photo of members of the class of 1914!

Group portrait of class of 1914, all students wearing tuxedos.

Class of 1914 (University Photographs, box 1569).

As the seniors finish their classes and take in their final moments here at Iowa State University I want to remind everyone to make their final days last. While finishing our classes strong is important, it is also important to take the time to hang out with our friends, and make a few more memories at Iowa State that we can cherish for the rest of our lives. Congratulations Class of 2019, we made it!

page from 1985 Bomb, ISU's yearbook, black-and-white image of commencement and white text in cursive reads "Congratulations Class of '85!!" over image.

From page of 571 the 1985 Bomb (Call Number LD 2548 lo9b).

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