Commencement / Reunion 2005

“There is a final article of faith this College has always sought to propagate and that is the conviction that history is not finished; that the future is not fated; and that with our privilege, with our degrees, comes our responsibility to build a more benevolent nation, a more hospitable people, and a more welcoming world.”

Such were the words delivered to the Class of 2005 by Commencement Speaker Bill Schulz ’71, executive director of Amnesty International USA. 606 students received degrees on May 30 in an outdoor ceremony that capped a lively week-end of reunion activities.

Commencement Speeches

Exploring the Traditions

Oberlin held its first Commencement exercises in 1834, when four freshman students completed their first academic year. Whereas those aspiring intellectuals were made to undergo a public examination, current traditions happily reflect Oberlin’s more humanitarian beginnings.

Alumni Luncheon: Ever since the Alumni Association’s inception in 1839, Reunion and Commencement activities have shared the same Memorial Day weekend. The Alumni Luncheon highlights the reasoning: on the Sunday before the exercises, under the big tent in Wilder Bowl, alumni welcome graduating seniors into their ranks. Under a canopy of colorful class banners, alumni and new graduates enjoy the wonderful symbolism of dining together as a community.

The Big Tent: Charles G. Finney, the “father of modern revivalism,” arrived in Oberlin as a professor of theology in 1835, bringing his tent and his preaching to Tappan Square under the banner “Holiness to the Lord.” Though Finney moved his congregation indoors with the construction of First Church in 1837, the big tent comes out at the end of May to serve as a gathering site for events during Senior Week and Commencement/Alumni Weekend.

Illumination Night: At dusk on Sunday, all of Tappan Square is hung with candlelit Japanese paper lanterns; music of local bands, including Oberlin Steel, adds to the celebratory air. Harkening back to Finney’s tent revival days, revelers feast on pie and ice cream. The Illumination tradition dates back to the election of President Lincoln, in whose honor the town was first strung with lanterns. In 1903, professor Frederick Grover, a new arrival to Oberlin from Harvard, suggested the College make Illumination an annual event, as was customary there. Aside from a hiatus during the second World War, it has been.

Commencement Procession: During Commencement exercises, students process past professors in such a way that every student sees every professor face-to-face one last time. The snaking conga lines pair faculty and seniors marching two across, led by the secretary of the College and the 50th reunion year class president. Though the practice may seem particularly suited to the College’s philosophies of brotherhood and equality, it actually originated with the medieval Oxford and Cambridge campuses.

Caps and Gowns: Students may choose to robe or not, but graduates may be interested to note that the right to wear those somber sacks and slippery mortarboards was hard won by students in the 1880s. Throughout the years, the policy of wearing and not wearing caps and gowns vacillated in a tug-of-war for respect between the faculty and the students, ending finally in 1970 when students protested the outfit as an elitist symbol and a waste of good money, after which caps and gowns were declared optional.

—Joellen Craft ’05