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UM Library Seeks Commencement Memorabilia

The J.D. Williams Library is a vital asset to students and faculty alike at the University of Mississippi. Photo by Jack Hall.

The University of Mississippi’s Department of Archives and Special Collections is looking for photos, programs, invitations and other materials from the university’s previous Commencement ceremonies.

Alumni, visitors, faculty, staff, students and any others who have archival materials related to Commencement ceremonies are invited to donate them to the department, where they will be preserved and made available to researchers and visitors.
“We are seeking to further augment the existing archival UM commencement collections with donations of programs, written memories about past speakers, invitations, news clippings, photographs, ephemera, audio and any other related archival memorabilia,” said Jennifer Ford, head of special collections. “In addition, interested patrons are invited to come view a selection of special collections’ unique archival holdings in the exhibit ‘A Selected History of Commencement at the University of Mississippi,’ featured in two cases outside the front doors of the department.”
These cases are on display during regular library hours on the third floor of the John D. Williams Library.
The university conducted its first Commencement in July 1849 but had no graduates, as this was only a year after the institution opened. In the words of university historian David Sansing, the four-day event surrounding the official program included “sumptuous banquets, a commencement ball and many speeches … and was a gala celebration.”
The 1849 address was given by Alexander M. Clayton and acting university President Albert Taylor Bledsoe. James Jones Quarles was a member of the first graduating class, which included only 15 students, in 1851, and he received the very first diploma issued by the university.
Several illustrious speakers have graced the stage over the course of the university’s 163 previous Commencements, including: U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1978; former President George H.W. Bush in 1985 (then vice president); author John Grisham in 1994; U.S. Sen. Trent Lott in 1998; U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in 1999; author, journalist and historian David Halberstam in 2005; U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker in 2012; civil rights leader Myrlie Evers-Williams in 2013; and journalist, author and historian Tom Brokaw in 2016.
For its 164th Commencement, the university’s keynote speaker will be Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham.
For more information about the initiative or to donate materials, contact Ford at 662-915-7408 or jwford@olemiss.edu.

By Edwin Smith
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