The Honors of Honor
A look at Final Exercises past
This weekend, more than 6,500 students will wear “the honors of Honor” and graduate from the University of Virginia. Here, take a look back at how Final Exercises have been celebrated over the past several decades, from barbecues to drinking from the loving cup and, of course, walking the Lawn.
After the 1910 commencement exercises in Old Cabell Hall, graduates and guests gathered to witness the dedication and unveiling of a statue of Thomas Jefferson by the artist Moses Ezekiel. The statue was installed in the landscaped plaza on the north side of the Rotunda. Ezekiel also created “The Homer Group” or Homer and His Guide, which was unveiled on the Lawn on June 10, 1907.
McIntire Amphitheatre during graduation and Final Exercises, with Cocke Hall in background. Centennial year.
In this postcard image, graduates gather on the steps of the Rotunda.
Celebration in Memorial Gymnasium during graduation and Finals weekend.
Then U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addresses the Class of 1940 at graduation.
Roosevelt and Newcomb, 1940
University President John Newcomb introduces U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt in Memorial Gymnasium.
From “The Hand That Held the Dagger,” in the Summer 2013 issue of UVA Magazine:
What should have been a joyous day for President Franklin D. Roosevelt that June morning in 1940 had taken an unexpected turn: Italy declared war on Britain and France, thereby entering World War II.
Aboard a train from Washington, D.C., to Charlottesville, an incensed Roosevelt pored over several typed pages—last-minute additions to the speech he would deliver that afternoon during the University of Virginia’s Final Exercises. Among the 497 graduating students was his son, Franklin Jr., who was graduating from the UVA Law School.
In Mem Gym, Roosevelt delivered his famous “dagger” speech.
Spectators sit on the Lawn—not chairs—during graduation and Final Exercises.
Band on the Lawn during graduation and Finals weekend.
A banquet in Memorial Gymnasium during graduation and Finals weekend.
School of Nursing graduation and Final Exercises in Old Cabell Hall. From excerpt on photo: “University of Virginia—Graduation of the School of Nursing in Cabell Hall. The University of Virginia is co-educational only in its graduate and professional schools—with less than 200 coeds registered. The 350 student nurses are in much demand for social events.”
Graduation barbecue during Finals weekend. From excerpt on photo: “The barbecue of the graduating class of 1948—a traditional feature of the Final Celebration, as the June commencement period is called. Lamb and pork is barbecued all night over the pit in the right background. Brunswick stew and beer round out the feast.”
From excerpt on back: “One of the traditional events at graduation is an old-fashioned Southern barbecue for members of the graduating class and their girls. This is held on a barbecue grounds, used only for this purpose. UVA may be the only university with its own barbecue grounds. In the background, left, is the barbecue pit where whole lambs and young pigs are barbecued all night long before the feast. Brunswick stew, which is eaten out of bowls or paper cups, is another traditional dish.”
The Class of 1950 sits on the steps of the Rotunda.
Spectators—and the media—on the Lawn for graduation. (ca. 1950s)
Catherine Russell (Grad ’51) processes onto Lawn with classmates for the graduation ceremony. She received her Ph.D. in microbiology.
Walter Ridley, 1953
Walter Ridley (Educ ’53) was the first African American to graduate from UVA. He earned a doctorate in education with high honors.
In 1958, 813 graduates received degrees. Finals speaker Francis Pendleton Gaines, president of Washington and Lee University, told the crowd, “America is in a sense of shock. It is because we have lost something we took for granted, something of utmost importance. We have lost the cult of our invincibility.”
Viscount Kilmuir, Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, speaks at Finals to the candidates for degrees. In his speech, the Lord Chancellor said, “You carry with you my warmest wishes not only for your success but that all who meet you will recognize you as worthy of the great University from which you graduated. I can wish you nothing better, nor could all your ambitions include a higher hope.”
President Shannon conferred 957 degrees—an all-time record at the University, breaking the previous record of 936 degrees awarded in 1950.
The University also changed its usual graduation practice this year: After the president conferred all degrees in a ceremony on the Lawn, the graduates went to separate assemblies conducted by their schools and received their diplomas from their deans.
(Ralph Thompson for Alumni News, May-June 1962)
Students receive their degrees.
Spectators on the Lawn during graduation and Final Exercises.
UVA School of Medicine graduation ceremony.
1971 graduates of the School of Nursing pose in front of the Rotunda.
William F. Buckley, founder of the National Review, was Finals speaker in 1972.
Former first lady Lady Bird Johnson gave the commencement speech in 1973, telling the crowd of 15,000, “Don’t despair of America.” Johnson also presented diplomas to Law School graduates (including to her son-in-law, Charles S. Robb [Law ’73]) in the third still above.
This year, Final Exercises took place in University Hall due to inclement weather.
Finals were held outdoors for the first time in three years in 1977. The number of graduates totaled 3,123.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall delivered the commencement address in 1978, telling the graduates, “It is hard work being well-informed, but it is essential work for the citizens of a democracy.”
Scenes from Final Exercises, 1978. One graduate pasted “Yipee!” on her mortar board.
Vice President George H. W. Bush gives the commencement address in 1981.
UVA basketball legend Ralph Sampson (Col ’83) towers above the crowd during a rainy 1983 graduation.
Three generations of alumni after the Finals ceremony: Benjamin K. Symmers Jr. (Engr ’84) with (left) Benjamin K. Symmers Sr. (Col ’63) and William G. Symmers (Col ’33, Law ’35).
At the end of the valediction ceremony, Sen. John Warner (Law ’53)and class president Glenn P. Williamson (Col ’85) (far left) pass the mint julep-filled loving cup to class fundraising chairman Joseph A. Ruzecki (Col ’85). University President Hereford, having taken his sip, looks on.
Nursing School graduates at a ceremony on the Lawn.
David Rainey (Com ’86) drinks champagne from the loving cup at the 1986 valediction ceremony.
A downpour leaves the loving cup all alone at the 1988 valediction.
Many graduating students favor shorts under gowns to keep cool during the ceremony.
Med student Michael Anderson graduates in style, complete with boa.
The Hullabahoos perform at the 1989 valediction.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson applauds as graduates march down the Lawn at graduation and Final Exercises.
A little girl wears the cap and gown of a graduate during graduation and Final Exercises.
A message from the Alumni Association to the graduating class.
The view from Old Cabell Hall at graduation and Final Exercises.
Graduates celebrate with their professor.
The Class of 2000 processes down the Lawn.
Some graduates from the Class of 2000 supported the Living Wage Campaign, pushing for UVA workers to receive $8 per hour. In Nov. 2000, the University raised the minimum wage from $6.50 to $8.19.
Michelle Le (Col ’99, Grad ’01) blows bubbles in celebration of her graduate degree.
Some members of the Class of 2002 honored victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which occurred in the fall of their fourth year.
Several deans walk the Lawn, including, starting second from left, Robert M. Carey, dean of the School of Medicine; John C. Jeffries Jr., dean of the School of Law; and Edward Ayers, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.
A 2007 graduate chats on a cell phone.
A 2008 graduate gets a boost to take in the scene.
A stack of diplomas prepared by the Office of the University Registrar will be handed out at a departmental graduation ceremony.
Katie Couric (Col ’79) was the commencement speaker in 2012. She joked that it took 33 years for UVA to invite her to speak at Final Exercises. “I guess it took the first woman to lead the University in 193 years to get the job done,” she said of President Sullivan.
Workers set up chairs for Final Exercises. More than 30,000 people attended the Lawn ceremony in 2013.
President Teresa Sullivan high-fives graduates during Final Exercises. The previous summer she received a groundswell of support from students, faculty and alumni when she was forced to resign and then was reinstated by the Board of Visitors.
Dean Allen Groves, 2014
Dean of Students Allen Groves gives graduates high fives in 2014. Dean Groves broke the world record for most high-fives in one hour in 2013.
In 2015, the job market was the best it had been for UVA students since before the Great Recession.
Students gather around Moses Ezekiel’s Jefferson statue before walking the Lawn in 2010.