Then and Now: Commencement Ceremonies and Traditions
A look back at how Commencement ceremonies and traditions have evolved and changed over the years.
Just over 150 years ago, on January 28, 1858, a class of 21 ladies and 11 gentlemen graduated from the New Jersey State Normal School. For the 2009 Commencement ceremony, more than 1,600 students will turn their tassels and become alumni.
Today’s students have looked to the past to continue traditions of their fellow alumni. In 1996, students reestablished the tradition of a college formal by instituting the annual TCNJ Formal. In addition, the class of 1999 brought back the tradition of Senior Week, with activities like a trip to Atlantic City, a campus carnival, parties on the boardwalk, and evenings out at local clubs, such as KatManDu.
One of the newest traditions, created in 2008, is the President’s Toast to the Seniors, where students join together around the Science Complex fountain for a quiet moment of proud reflection before their last hurrah—the Senior Gala in Eickhoff Hall.
A custom from the early years of the College was step singing, observed as the junior class took possession from the seniors of the steps at Kendall Hall. Seniors then gathered at the Inn for an evening of humorous skits and a senior-dinner dance. Truly, not much has changed except that maybe the humorous “skits” of today’s students are impromptu occurrences rather than formal performances.
Over the years, graduates have enjoyed Commencements in several campus locales, including Quimby’s Prairie, Dean Field (the 50 yard line of which is now marked by a plaque on the floor in Paul Loser Hall), and, currently, Lions’ Stadium. Ceremonies have gone from plain and simple to raucous and rowdy to lavish. In the mid-1980s, in addition to the whoosh of caps being thrown into the air, it wasn’t uncommon to hear that familiar “pop” on the field as bottles of champagne were uncorked in celebration. Recent Commencements have swapped out the bubbly for bubble machines, floral arrangements, balloons, banners, streamers, and bottomless chafers of delicious food at the newly instituted Commencement Reception.
Harold Eickhoff, president of the College from 1980 through 1999, fondly remembers the first Commencement over which he presided—which also happened to be the same day he was inaugurated. “They said a few words, put the medal around my neck, and off we went,” he recalls. Of the Commencement speakers, Eickhoff named Malcolm Forbes (of Forbes Magazine fame) as one of the most memorable, offering an entertaining but substance-lacking address that delivered a single message to graduates: “Go forth, make lots of money, and enjoy life.”
Posted on May 29, 2009