I think it’s happy for two reasons. First, because preparations for commencement means that it’s almost summer! Everyone loves summer. But beneath that, it’s also happy because it gives us assurance of continuity. That’s what these rituals are for, at least in part, and especially so for those of us who remain inside the universities after the graduates go out into the wider world.
Rice has held commencement in several places over the years and the construction and orientation of the platform has changed repeatedly. Some of the earlier sites could never be used again because the transformation of the campus has been so great. But through it all the rhythm of the semesters stays the same. If I reckon correctly, this was my 64th.
I found these two shots in the scrapbook of George Wheeler, the early biology student I’ve written about before. They were taken during commencement setup in 1917:
And here’s one from 1952, when what we now call Founder’s Court was still a parking lot:
Why is the sallyport filled in?
I don’t know. They used these big pieces of canvas, at first just painted some dark color, but then light in the middle and decorated along the edges. I have no idea what motivated it. I’d welcome any thoughts you might have.
My commencement, in 1981, was held in Autry Court because of torrential rain. It was sweltering inside, bad even for Houston (no air conditioning), but at least we weren’t soaked from the outside.
Norm Hackerman gave a marvelous address. He told us that he had prepared a speech, and held up a stack of paper. Then he tore it in half, waited for the applause to die down and said (approximately) “You won’t get a better degree anywhere, congratulations!” and sat down.
Wunderwood, I remember that one well. The humidity inside was outrageous.
I like the “doughboy” helmet on the light in the third picture.
Look, another quad planter from the early days!