Commencements past: Held at fairgrounds, fortresses and football fields

Oval, 1909

Because there were so few students, the University’s first commencement ceremonies were held in University Hall’s chapel, from 1878 when the first class graduated, to 1908. That venue grew too small, so the University tried going outdoors, first in 1909 with a tent on the Oval. (Exercises also were held under a tent there in 1918 and – sans a tent – in 2001, when the Stadium was under renovation.) In 1910, a tent was erected again, this time next to Mirror Lake.

Next up was the Armory, a fortress-like building that once stood where the Wexner Center is now located. Exercises were held there from 1911-1912 since the interior of the building consisted mostly of one huge gymnasium.

Armory, 1912

By 1922, however, the number of students graduating had outgrown even that facility, so for the next five years, the ceremony was held off-campus at the Coliseum on the Ohio state Fairgrounds.

Finally, in 1928, Ohio Stadium became home, at least to the spring Commencement ceremony where thousands receive their diplomas. It has been home to nearly every spring commencement ceremony since then, and has witnessed a variety of pageantry, firsts and unusual student displays.

In 1986, graduating dentists, doctors and optometrists got a little too rowdy during the spring graduation ceremony. The dentists, with high-flying balloons announcing “We ain’t afraid of no teeth” were seemingly outdone by the optometrists, who had hired an airplane to fly over the Stadium, hauling the message “Optometry ‘86, You Look Mahvelous”. The horseplay caused OSU President Ed Jennings to advise the College of Dentistry to have a separate ceremony the next year, with hopes to avoid the disruptive behavior. (They apparently behaved the next year.)

Ohio Stadium, 1997

But sometimes, the outcome of an outdoor ceremony is beyond anyone’s control. Shortly after commencement exercises started on Friday, June 13th, 1997, a downpour caused the ceremony to be cancelled – for only the second time in University history (The first rain cancellation was in 1941.) Soaked graduates waded in knee-deep water in the end zone before relocating to the French Field House to receive their degrees. In a follow-up letter to the graduating students, President E. Gordon Gee noted that “One graduate remarked that she wasn’t sure she had graduated, but was certain she had been baptized.”

Posted in Commencement, Early University history, Students |

Comments are closed.