Sent Forth: Concordia’s Commencement Traditions

Photo: Commencement proceedings during the first royal visit of then Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Sonja of Norway, 1939

Concordia’s first graduating class celebrated commencement on Friday, June 23, 1893, in Commercial Hall (now part of Academy Hall). Graduates of the Commercial Course included Oscar Simensen, Wilhelm Rognlie, Peter Lyng, August Aanenson, Hans Widness, Nils Muus, and C. G. Dosland. Margaret Teigen, the first female graduate of Concordia, was the only graduate of the Practical Course. She later studied at Rush Medical College to become a doctor.

Since Concordia’s inception, the school had been termed a college; however, from 1891 to 1913 courses and programs were confined to two years of study (a characteristic of academy programs). By the early 1910s, Concordia leaders recognized the need for developing a college program that would extend study to four years. In 1915, Concordia had developed a four-year course program, and on May 25, 1917, Concordia conferred its first bachelor of arts degrees to six graduates: Martha Brennun, Emil Bagley, Ingvald Lavik, Rudolph Lavik, Nils Mykkeltvedt, and Lars Sierstad. Diplomas were also awarded to those who completed the Classical, Commercial, Parochial, Normal, Shorthand, and Music Courses. In 1927, the last diplomas were awarded to academy graduates. 

By 1900, commencement evolved into a week of festivities. “Class night” featured student recitals and recitations and later evolved into Cap and Gown Day. Cap and Gown Day became a graduation tradition with the class of 1921. The event opened with a tree planting ceremony and followed with students recessing into the auditorium to listen to the class oration. Graduates sang the class song and the student body president would announce the gift that the class pledged to the college. A “Key of Knowledge” was also passed down to the junior class. In later years, the valedictory and salutatory speeches were added. In 1962, the faculty voted to discontinue Cap and Gown Day and cease selecting a senior class valedictorian and salutatorian citing time constraints and the tradition’s decreased importance. 

Commencement week also included an alumni banquet, which created an informal homecoming celebration. A “class sermon” event was added to the schedule in 1904. This event later evolved into Concordia’s baccalaureate ceremony for which graduates and faculty would process to Trinity Lutheran Church (a tradition that lasted for 46 years). In 1952, baccalaureate was held in Memorial Auditorium as a joint service with the congregations of Trinity, Good Shepherd, and Our Savior’s. Baccalaureate and commencement were held on the same day for the first time in 1965. 

Commencement has not only changed in terms of festivities and degrees, but also in locations. Commencement was held in the Old Main Auditorium from 1917 to 1939. The “Royal Commencement” in 1939, where Crown Prince Olav received Concordia’s first honorary degree, took place outside the north entrance to Old Main. From 1947 to 1950, commencement exercises moved to the Moorhead Junior High School or the Moorhead Armory to accommodate larger audiences. In 1951, commencement was again held outside of Old Main to celebrate Concordia’s 60th anniversary. Since 1952, commencement exercises have been held in Memorial Auditorium. 

While commencement has evolved, the event still remains an important commemoration of sending into society thoughtful and informed men and women dedicated to the Christian life.


– Contributed by Lisa Sjoberg, former college archivist