Tuesday, June 21, 2011

21 June 1834: A Whirlwind of Activities for Commencement Week

On this day, and several others, the University of Georgia gave notice about Commencement Exercises at the college to the Southern Banner:

Commencement Exercises typically lasted several days, with students from all levels demonstrating their acquired knowledge from the previous year, often with speeches and oral examinations. Until class size made the tradition untenable, all graduating seniors would be expected to exhibit their skills through oratory as part of exercises at the recently constructed Chapel.  

Total student enrollment in 1834 was 97 students, all white males, and primarily from surrounding counties and the "plantation belt" of central Georgia. Among the graduates of the 1834 class was future United States Senator and Georgia Governor from 1853-1857, Herschel Vespasian Johnson, and among those Juniors scheduled to exhibit his oratory skills was future doctor and discoverer of ether anesthetic , Crawford W. Long.

The 1830s were a time of academic growth at the University of Georgia, despite the state legislature balking at spending state funds on higher education. New to the curriculum was calculus, then called "fluxations," and modern languages, such as French. Juniors and Seniors studied a total of 13 subjects, including navigation, engineering, natural philosophy, astronomy, and physics.

Commencement week brought alumni, influential Georgians, and even visitors from other states, especially South Carolina, to Athens. Over the years, "as the number of graduates of the institution grew ... the week of graduation at the university became a focus for discussion of political issues of the day and a forum in which political bargaining and deal making could flourish." 

This 1834 commencement week also saw the formation of the first Alumni Society at the University, initiated by the school's first graduating class of 1804. Their goal was "to encourage education, promote the cause of science and literature, call the public attention to our State University, and annually renew the friendships of early life."

Commencement was also a busy social period in Athens, with dances, dinners, picnics, and other festivities scheduled throughout the week. "At these affairs, no small amount of matchmaking and courting occurred with liaisons established and family mergers struck that would affect the course of Georgia society for years."

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