Southern Methodist University convocation and commencement records
A Guide to the Collection
SMU was chartered in 1911 and opened for its first academic year in the fall of 1915. A number of university events have been held during the university’s nearly 100-year history to recognize the completion of degrees by students.
The type of events held has changed over the years. The most common event has been the commencement exercises at which degrees are conferred. This has traditionally been held at the end of the spring semester in May or June, but during SMU’s history, other commencement ceremonies have been held in February, August, October, and December.
In addition to the commencement ceremony, SMU has also held convocations or school assemblies to recognize outstanding students (Honors Day, Senior Recognition Day, Academic Awards ceremony) and religious services for those graduating. For many years, the university held a Convocation Religious Service (also called, at different times, the Convocation Sermon or the Baccalaureate Service), followed by an Organ Recital, and Senior Vespers. A religious service is still held today prior to commencement, but both the Organ Recital and Senior Vespers have long since been discontinued.
Other university convocation ceremonies have included opening convocations, at which administration and faculty officially welcome incoming freshmen students, and special convocations to honor important university visitors, such as the September 1975 convocation honoring U.S. President Gerald R. Ford.
The first series of commencement events was held on Sunday, June 11 and Tuesday, June 13, 1916. Graduates and their families attended a religious Convocation Service, as well as a Senior Vespers service that Sunday. Degrees were conferred on the first SMU graduating class two days later. The class was composed of graduates who had arrived at SMU for their senior year and students receiving masters’ degrees.
Over the years the listing of events celebrating commencement has changed. For example, events held in 1932 (the 17th Convocation, as described on the programs) included the Convocation Sermon, an Organ Recital, Senior Vespers, and the Commencement Exercises, held on June 5-7. The 1967 program included a Senior Vespers, Baccalaureate Service, and Commencement. By the 1980s, Commencement was divided up into the university-wide ceremony, and smaller ceremonies held for the various schools and departments within SMU (Dedman College, Cox School of Business, Perkins School of Theology, etc) at which graduates would actually receive their diplomas. Events held for the 1983 Commencement included Baccalaureate and Commencement Convocation, in addition to the smaller ceremonies.
By the 1930s, SMU was holding two commencement ceremonies per year, in May/June at the end of the spring semester, and in August/September around the beginning of the new academic year. In 1937, for example, the school held one commencement on June 1 in McFarlin Auditorium, and another, smaller ceremony later on August 20 in front of Dallas Hall (with both ceremonies comprising the 22nd Annual Convocation). During the 1940s, the university held other commencement ceremonies as needed, and during this period, SMU held 3 or even 4 graduations during the year. During 1945, commencement exercises took place in February, June, August, and October.
In the 1990s, SMU established a December Recognition Ceremony to honor students completing their degrees at the end of the fall semester. This later became the December Graduation Ceremony, and although it was not officially a convocation, the university continued to honor its graduates in the school-wide commencement exercises held each May.
This increase in the number of graduation ceremonies—and the need for larger venues for these ceremonies—has reflected SMU’s growth. The first several commencement convocations were held in the auditorium on the third floor of Dallas Hall. SMU’s gymnasium was briefly used during the 1920s for commencement activities until the construction of McFarlin Auditorium by the latter part of the decade. Commencement, as well as the Convocation Religious Service and Organ Recital were held there starting in 1927. The front steps of Dallas Hall became the location for the Senior Vespers service during the many years this event was held (it seems to have been discontinued by the 1970s). Ownby Stadium was also used for several ceremonies during the 1950s, and Moody Coliseum has been the site of commencement since 1956.
From the first commencement in 1916, the university’s administration emphasized the importance of observing the ceremony and solemnity of the gathering, as much as honoring those who were being granted degrees. Through the first half-century of SMU’s history, commencement was widely regarded as a cherished and essential part of each student’s college years. It represented the crowning moment for those who had successfully navigated the rigorous academic requirements, as well as a sort of “last hurrah,” since those who took part in commencement and received degrees were graduated, and thus finished with their college career.
It seems that from the 1960s onward, the general importance of commencement has faded somewhat, since that period marked the beginning of a greater accessibility of a college education to a greater number of people. The fact that more people have been able to go to college, and thus receive degrees, has removed some of the aura of uniqueness and majesty that colleges and universities tried to impart to their commencement convocations.
This more casual attitude toward the ceremony, as one member of SMU’s faculty has noted, resulted in “student denigration of, and absence from, commencement, decoration of regalia, drinking during the service, catcalls…and random participants’ departures during the ceremonies…All of this has occurred at many institutions—but, thankfully, in small numbers at Southern Methodist University.”
Southern Methodist University convocation and commencement records
Lorn Lambier Howard, “Southern Methodist University Commencement Development: 1916-1988,” written in 2007-08.
The material in the collection documents the convocations and other ceremonies held in celebration of commencement from 1916 until 2008. The collection holds programs for most of the ceremonies held during this period. The collection was compiled over time as programs from each year’s commencement activities and other convocations were saved, meaning that the overall scope is dependent on whoever was responsible for saving programs or other records from each event held.
Users should refer to the Convocation and Commencement Ceremony Listing, found in Box 1, Folder 5, for information on the date, time, location, and order of convocation events held each year. This compilation is based on the programs and information contained in this collection; as such, there may be some events not listed because no program for that event was saved.
In general, the events for each year’s convocations, locations, and names of graduates can easily be seen, as the collection holds multiple programs for the vast majority of SMU’s history. Users of this collection should take note that most of the records in this collection are the printed programs from convocation/commencement activities. Some internal administration documents regarding the organization and planning of commencement are also included, as well as a few copies of commencement speeches—these, however, are sporadic.
The collection is arranged into three series. The first covers the commencement activities and other convocation ceremonies throughout SMU's history from 1916 through 2008. The second series contains audiovisual recordings of ceremonies from 1979 through 2008. Users should note that these recordings are not all of the same media; audiocassette tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, videotapes, and DVDs were all used at different times to record convocation/commencement events, and are all contained in this second series. The third series contains memorabilia from past commencement ceremonies: a lantern used for the annual Baccalaureate service, commemorative paperweights, and ticketing stamps used for the 1992 commencement at which President George H.W. Bush spoke.
Users of this collection should take note of how convocations are numbered. For many years, it appears that the events of the annual convocation all took place during one calendar year. Each convocation began and ended within the same year. Starting in the 1940s (based on the Opening Convocation programs in Box 1, Folder 1), the beginning of a new convocation began with the beginning of a new school year, not the beginning of a new calendar year.
For example, the 20th Annual Convocation took place in 1935, and included the commencement exercises held in both May and August. The university held an opening ceremony later in September (as it seems to have done each year), but this event was not as yet a convocation. The 21st Annual Convocation began in 1936, the first event of which was the Convocation Religious Service in May of that year.
From the 1940s onward, this changed; the gathering that took place in the fall became the Opening Convocation, the first event of the new annual convocation. Thus, in 1994, the 79th Annual Convocation concluded with the commencement exercises held that spring; the 80th Annual Convocation began later that same year with the Opening Convocation in August.
Access to Collection:
Collection is open for research use.
Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the Director of the DeGolyer Library.
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Southern Methodist University convocation and commencement records, Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
Transfer, Registrar, 1991.
Paul H. Santa Cruz, 2008.
Lara Corazalla, 2008.
Detailed Description of the Collection