Collection Spotlight: Wayne State University Commencement Programs

On May 5 and 6, 2011, Wayne State University will hold its spring commencement ceremonies. The Reuther Library holds a collection of commencement programs for Wayne State, its predecessor institutions, and its colleges and divisions; these programs tell a story of the university's growth and development.

The oldest document in our collection of commencement programs commemorates the fifth graduating class of the Detroit Teachers College in June of 1922. This school was created in 1920 when the Detroit Normal Training School for Teachers (founded in 1881) began to admit male students and offer four-year degrees. The first commencement of the College of the City of Detroit took place on June 18, 1925; this institution was formed in 1923 when the Detroit Junior College (founded in 1917) began to offer its own four-year degrees. In 1933 the College of the City of Detroit, the Detroit Teachers College, and the School of Medicine (founded 1868) merged to form an institution that was, a year later, named Wayne University; the first commencement program bearing that name is from the ceremonies held on June 8, 1934. That year's ceremonies also celebrated the 1934 graduates of the Detroit City Law School (founded in 1927), which was not incorporated as a unit of Wayne University until 1937. Wayne University became a state university in 1956, and the first commencement program of Wayne State University dates from January 29, 1957.

As the University grew in size, its graduating classes repeatedly outgrew whatever facilities were used to host commencement ceremonies. From 1929 until 1938, the College of the City of Detroit and Wayne University held commencement at the Detroit Masonic Temple; from 1939 until 1943, at the now-demolished Olympia Stadium. Commencements then returned to the Masonic Temple, but from 1948 until 1960, the temple only hosted the mid-year commencement ceremonies, while the springtime ceremonies took place at the Michigan State Fairgrounds Coliseum. In 1961 both annual ceremonies were relocated to Cobo Hall and Convention Arena, where they remained until 1998. In the early twenty-first century, general commencement ceremonies were held on Wayne State University campus facilities for the first time: first at Adams Field (the only space large enough to hold all graduating students and their families), and lately at the Matthaei Athletic Center. This week, five consecutive commencement ceremonies will be held instead of one, in order to accommodate graduates of Wayne State's thirteen colleges and schools.

Beginning in 1925, graduating seniors of the College of the City of Detroit would take part in pre-commencement exercises called "Swing Out" (for summer graduates) and "Swing In" (for winter graduates). These ceremonies continued after the foundation of Wayne University, and served specifically to honor the University's undergraduates: as a pamphlet distributed in 1959 remarked, "You have an opportunity to wear your cap and gown and not be out-dazzled by a Ph.D." 1967 was the last year of these ceremonies; in 1968, the University celebrated its Centennial Year, commemorating the centenary of the founding of the Detroit Medical College, and retiring the tradition of Swing Out and Swing In. A relatively recent tradition at Wayne State commencements is the Academic Mace of Wayne State University. As recent commencement programs note, this 51-inch ceremonial scepter, present at University commencements, was built in 1984 by Philip Fike, professor of art. The mace was donated to the University by Sara and Melvin Maxwell Smith (himself a 1939 graduate of Wayne University).

The Wayne State University Commencement Programs Collection is available for researchers at the Walter P. Reuther Library. This collection also includes commencement programs for the School of Medicine and the Law School, Honors Convocation programs, and other documents pertaining to graduation ceremonies. Please contact the University Archivist or the Reuther's Reference Archivist for access to these materials, or for more information about commencement and graduation at Wayne State University.

Casey Westerman is the Wayne State University Archivist.