Every year, June brings change for thousands of students across the United States as they mark the end of a chapter in their educational life and, possibly, the start of a new one. The Prints & Photographs Division’s collections include a number of high school and college graduation photographs. Some aspects of these images seem timeless while others are distinct to their time.
The facial expressions in this image of UC Berkeley’s graduating class of 1901 seem in some cases to reflect pride and in others boredom — a combination of feelings I remember from my own college graduation.
Music is, and has been, an integral part of the pomp at many commencement ceremonies. What would a graduation be without the school band to provide a soundtrack?
Students in military dress in this photograph taken by Gordon Parks at Howard University’s commencement in 1942 provide a reminder that the nation was at war.
Jesse Leroy Brown, third from the left in the photograph below, became the first African American naval cadet to receive his wings at this 1948 graduation ceremony. He went on to earn a Distinguished Flying Cross, and was killed fighting for his country during the Korean War.In 1941, photographer Jack Delano documented two separate high school graduation ceremonies in Union Point, Georgia, more than a decade before the Supreme Court’s unanimous Brown v. Board of Education ruling that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.
The photographs in the collections provide endless opportunities to reflect on how some experiences of individual Americans have remained the same, and on what has changed over the last century.
- See more graduation photos in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. Or, see those retrievable with the keywords “commencement day.”
- Explore the Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Collection, which provided a few of the images in this post.
- Browse the many school-related images in the Prints & Photographs Division’s collections.
- Read this Picture This back-to-school themed post: Back to the Chalkboard: Schooltime Photos in the FSA/OWI Collection