The Magazine of The University of Montana
The graduating class of 1947 march to the Commencement ceremony.
UM’s COMMENCEMENT traditions began in 1898, when the University’s first Commencement featured only two graduates—both women.
UM’s progressiveness and inclusion of women carried over for years to come. Beginning in 1925 and continuing for forty years, the Associated Women Students group circled the Oval with lanterns the night before Commencement. The Class of 1925 initiated several festivities for the night before graduation. First, a senior supper “batting” (1910 slang for outdoor picnic) started at
6 p.m. Next, seniors sang “College Chums” on the Main Hall steps, and UM’s band performed on the Oval. As the night wore on, to-be graduates saw the lighted M and watched the Masquers Club and English department’s co-sponsored plays.
The festivities that took place the evening before Commencement came to be known as May Fete. Seniors elected a May Queen, who sat on a throne atop the Main Hall steps and oversaw all activities. The night ended with Junior Prom. Oratorical contests, literary club readings, band concerts, and field day baseball games between alumni and faculty (sometimes faculty versus seniors) also were early- and mid-twentieth century graduation traditions.
As enrollment at UM doubled, tripled, and then quadrupled, May Fete festivities ended, although Singing on the Steps and the lighting of the M became Homecoming traditions. Commencement took place in the Student Union Building (now the Fine Arts Building) until 1954, when the location changed to the Field House (now the Adams Center). The only recorded graduation ceremonies to take place outside occurred at the Craig Hall Grove in 1945 and Washington-Grizzly Stadium in 1999. The Class of 2010 will be the first to graduate at an outdoor main ceremony on the Oval.