Back to Commencement Again

There are a lot of people who have no idea that for many years commencement was held in front of the Chemistry Building. I’ve never seen any discussion of this change on paper but I’m pretty sure I know why they did it. Here’s a photo of the commencement ceremony in 1931:

See the problem? It’s starting to get really crowded–the audience stretches along the entire back side of the Administration Building. But because the hedges are totally closed there isn’t anywhere else to put more people. I don’t know if it never occurred to them to open the hedges or if they were just totally committed to that particular arrangement. In any case, something needed to be done. The front side of the building was an unsuitable parking lot, but the front of Chemistry was wide open. Here’s a picture (taken by our old friend Maxwell O. Reade) of the setup for the 1938 commencement that shows what I mean:

There were no hedges and, unlike the same spot today, no trees in the way. And look at the size of the canopy compared to the one in the first shot. It’s enormous! And shade was really important when they regularly held commencement in early to mid-June. The first time they did it was in 1935 and here’s what it looked like underneath:

Just for fun, here’s the stand, complete with a gigantic Texas flag and a smaller Rice flag on the podium:

Standing, left to right: William Ward Watkin, Hubert Bray, Harry Weiser, Edgar O. Lovett at the podium. Nice group.

And speaking of processions, the first time I ever opened this file the first thing I saw was this, which really threw me for a loop:

That’s just crazy.

Bonus: Here’s Reade’s picture of the hedges, taken, I think at the same time. I wish I could see how they got in there to cut the grass.

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8 Responses to Back to Commencement Again

  1. marmer01 says:

    They probably cut the grass with push mowers lifted over the hedges. They’re not very heavy, really. In the picture in front of the Chemistry Building, note the folded chairs just leaning there on the side. I know why they were there, because the organizers couldn’t be completely sure who was coming and they might need to add a chair quickly. Still, the chairs need to be stored out of sight. Bad stage management!

    • Sandy Havens says:

      Agreed, but there is no “back stage” nearby. We are both familiar with that problem.

      • marmer01 says:

        Sandy, I’ll bet that if you or I had been there we would have found someplace to hide those chairs! Behind or under that “downstage right” entry stair would be my first guess.

        Wait! That US flag doesn’t have the right number of stars! Oh, never mind! 😉

  2. Sandy Havens says:

    I would guess that the academic procession photo that “threw you for a loop” was from Lovett Hall (where the Faculty Chamber was) to the Commencement set up in front of the Chem Building.

    A side note: Back in the early 1950’s Rice Players did, for several years, an annual performance of Shakespeare scenes or plays using the campus architecture as a background. Several of those scenes and at least one play were performed on the steps of the ChemLec Hall or in the exact space that Commencement used to be held.

    • Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

      Our class was, among other classes, before its time:
      Valhalla did NOT exist under the “Romeo and Juliet” stairway – balcony leading up into the Chem Lecture Hall. It was named Butcher Hall when I took some CE classes there, but called something else now.
      If you never peeked into that cavern under the stairs in 1952-56, it was filled with lawn maintainance tools; at least, that’s all I could see in its dark recesses.

      Melissa, I recently learned that a “Butcher” with whom I play Senior Softball is a grandson of some degree of Del Butcher, for whom the Lecture Hall was named.
      All together now, “It’s a smalll ….”

  3. Keith Cooper says:

    The photo of the academic procession shows, pretty graphically, the growth in the size of Commencement that led to the change of venue. Look in the background of that photo and you will see that degree recipients are visible to the right of the Sallyport. In the earlier photos, the line was much shorter. The ceremony simply would not fit between the hedges and the Sallyport. Rather than re-landscape the quad, they moved Commencement.

  4. wunderwood says:

    The banner on the podium is a nice look at the device for the Rice flag.

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