The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga celebrates many traditions, but perhaps none as firmly rooted in our school’s history as commencement.
During the first commencement, Chattanooga University awarded eight degrees during their first graduation ceremony, including one honorary master’s degree. Early graduation festivities included a weeklong series of events culminating in commencement. The festivities often kicked off with musical events, which were followed by trips to Lookout Mountain, baccalaureate sermons, and oratory contents, as well as dinner parties and other events to celebrate the graduates.
The program from the first Chattanooga University commencement ceremony, dated 1887 June 8. Courtesy of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.
Bishop I. W. Joyce, the third president of the university, imparted the following words to the third graduating class of 1889 on Sunday, June 5 in his baccalaureate address entitled “The Mission of Educated Minds” held in the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
I see the scholars go forth to their life mission, perhaps with a curst of bread and a cup of water. One goes into the ranks of law, another to medicine, another to farmer, another to merchandise; but after their day of toil they are ready to hasten.
Photograph of the Old Stone Church where many early university were held. Courtesy of the Chattanooga Public Library and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.
While classes were conducted in Old Main, early commencement ceremonies were held in the First Methodist Episcopal Church, constructed between 1881 and 1885 at the southeast corner of Georgia Avenue and McCallie Avenue. Colloquially referred to at the Old Stone Church, the building was razed in 1977, but the steeple remains as a lasting memory of the building’s unique architecture.
Photograph of Old Main, the building that formed the original UTC campus. Courtesy of the Chattanooga Public Library and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Special Collections.
We wish the best of luck to this year’s graduates as they take part in the commencement traditions and ceremonies that started 131 years ago at Chattanooga University.
Chattanooga University. “Commencement Week.” University Lookout (Chattanooga, Tennessee), June 1889, 6.
Govan, Gilbert E. (Gilbert Eaton). The University of Chattanooga: sixty years. Chattanooga: Univ. of Chattanooga, 1947.