Ask Abe: First Commencement Speaker

An Alum

Who was the UW’s first commencement speaker?

Abe

The UW’s first commencement ceremony was held on July 26, 1854. The graduating class included just two people: Levi Booth and Charles Wakeley, both of whom were among the first class of 20 students who met at the UW in 1849. The baccalaureate address was given by Chancellor John Lathrop. We have no record of what he talked about, but we do have the titles of the speeches given by the six student speakers. Levi Booth gave the welcome address (in Latin!) and a speech titled “Imperfections of the Social System.” James Flower’s speech was “The Eastern Question,” Sidney Foote gave a speech called “Nature: Man’s Best Teacher,” Hayden Kellogg Smith spoke on “The Ideal Man,” and valedictorian Charles Wakeley’s speech addressed “The Course of Liberal Study.” Just remember: no matter how long your commencement ceremony was, at least there weren’t more speakers than there were graduates.