At Trinity, commencement is not the end of the journey. Graduates who depart campus don’t stop growing, but instead join thousands of Tigers in a centuries-long tradition of lifelong learning.
For generations, graduation at Trinity has been a bittersweet moment, especially for those classes who’ve seen the University change campuses. But for all graduates, from 1869 to present day, commencement has served a singular purpose: an open door to a new life. Setting out from Trinity’s campus, Tigers are imbued with an enterprising spirit that transforms challenge into opportunity.
Trinity’s 1899 graduating class poses in the wilderness near the Tehuacana campus.
Kindling the Fire
In tiny Tehuacana, Texas, the first wave of Trinity commencements were close-knit affairs. The event typically included single-digit graduating classes and revolved around the school’s intimate ties to the surrounding community.
Trinity’s commencement programs at the time included various society offerings of music, declamation, and essays, and students made presentations of their academic knowledge to appreciative audiences of families and townsfolk.
By 1902, Trinity’s final year on the Tehuacana campus, commencement week helped bring closure to a prolonged and painful relocation process to the future Waxahachie campus. At a final chapel service, graduating seniors and faculty members spoke tender and enthusiastic parting words as they severed cordial relations with the Tehuacana community. Following the chapel service, the YMCA gave mirth-provoking entertainment, and later the campus community gathered for a music recital. In this 33rd commencement, Trinity graduated a class of nine.
“Rekindle the fires of your youthful oratory and renew your enthusiastic vows of devotion to musical culture, art, classics, literature, science, philosophy, and mathematics.” - Trinity President Jesse Anderson at 33rd commencement
Trinity’s 1935 class was one of the last to graduate from the Waxahachie campus
True to Truth
On the Waxahachie campus, commencement ceremonies combined old Tehuacana traditions, such as literary society debates and music recitals, with new events such as Ivy Day, where members of the senior class planted a sprig of ivy near the college walkway. In 1907, The Trinitonian recorded speeches from seniors on Ivy Day, which remembered "the memories of happy days, pledging themselves to be true to truth and duty and do good to all men.”
Around this time, students were also permitted to engage in more lighthearted affairs, such as the faculty-take off, where seniors impersonated faculty members' voices and mannerisms for the commencement crowd. Attending the event in 1915, a local reporter said, "It was clever acting, and kept the audience in constant laughter.”
By 1942, Trinity was set for its final commencement exercises in Waxahachie, as members of the Trinity faculty and staff were preparing for the University’s eventual transfer to San Antonio. A half-million pounds of classroom and office furniture, laboratory and recreational equipment, library books, current and archival records, and anything else of value were transported on more than thirty train cars to the Woodlawn campus. After a third of a century in Tehuacana and 40 years in Waxahachie, Trinity’s final Waxahachie commencement would graduate 38 seniors.
Outdoor commencement ceremony in Brackenridge Park
A Rewarding Time
As Trinity’s Woodlawn and Skyline campuses initially lacked a venue worthy of a commencement ceremony, Trinity would hold its summer commencement exercises outdoors in Brackenridge Park at the Sunken Gardens during the 1950s and 1960s .
By the late 1960s, however, a wave of campus construction had seen 42 buildings erected, with only an auditorium still needed to round out the University's master plan. Thus, Laurie Auditorium was constructed in 1971. With a seating capacity of 3,000, the auditorium would function as the site for university and civic cultural programs as well as annual commencement ceremonies.
Armed with a new facility, then-president Ronald Calgaard moved to make commencement more of a social event in the 1980s. Calgaard moved the time of the spring commencement from Saturday evening to Saturday morning, with the graduate commencement taking place at 9 a.m. and the undergraduate ceremonies at 10:30 a.m. After these events, a catered lunch was held at the Bell Athletic Center for the graduates and their families, as well as faculty and staff.
Commencement exercises in May 1999 marked Calgaard's last ceremonial performance as University president. He handed 428 diplomas to graduates.
"One of the joys of my life is that I have done almost everyday something I enjoy doing. I've been working at a Trinity degree a little longer than the rest of you. Most of you have managed to do this in four or five years. It has taken me twenty, but I intend to graduate today. And I can only hope for you, as we both plan for some changes in our lives and for some new futures, an exciting, an interesting, and a rewarding time.” - Ron Calgaard at his final commencement ceremony as president
Meaning and Purpose
As Trinity enters its 150th year, commencement has grown from a nine-man ceremony to an event for graduating classes of more than 400.
While some event traditions have been discarded, others remain timeless. The University still holds a vespers service the day before commencement, for example, even though Trinity is no longer formally affiliated with the Presbyterian church. After the degree ceremonies, a reception with the University president, a practice started by Calgaard, still follows in the Coates Esplanade. And in keeping with tradition, graduating students climb the 297 steps of Murchison Tower, bringing their time at Trinity to a close.
These graduates are many and diverse: some are members of families with multiple generations of Trinity degrees, while others are first-generation students, blazing a new path. Regardless of their background, these Tigers will go on to launch businesses, discover new truths about the world, or create new solutions to old challenges.
Though commencement, these students are united in setting out on lives of meaning and purpose.
President Danny Anderson welcomes new graduates in 2018