2023 marks the 140th year since Reinhardt was founded. With over 100 commencement ceremonies, Reinhardt is steeped in a rich history of learning, serving, and leading. Initial enrollment in 1883 ranged from elementary to high school age, with the first class of four high school students graduating in 1888. One of those four original graduates, the niece of co-founder Augustus Reinhardt, Fredonia Blanton, went on to teach at Reinhardt for over 40 years.
By the time that enrollment grew to over 200 students in 1890, commencement became an entertainment event for the community. Sometimes lasting several days, commencement provided students an opportunity to display their newly acquired knowledge, which our Convocation of Artists and Scholars event reflects even today. The Reinhardt commencement of 1895 lasted five days and the catalog listing the events required eleven pages. Special presentations by primary, preparatory, and college students included orations, essays, short plays, dress parades, and skirmish drills by the Battalion of Cadets. The main orators each day were ministers, professors, and statesmen.
In the early 1900s, commencements were a time to wave the Reinhardt flag. Even farmers took off working and crammed into every Waleska home for four-day events which included pageants and a mock military battle. In an area where life usually ran calm, and students outnumbered residents, it was natural for everyone to turn out for an unusual attraction that brought crowds and excitement.
By 1920, the graduating class had grown to about 30 students and the school had expanded to add a second year of post-secondary education. The first students of the junior college graduated in 1921.
The Reinhardt College Alumni Association was formed in 1946. Each year at commencement, the graduating class is formally inducted.
By 1956, all primary and secondary students had transferred into the Cherokee County school system, and Reinhardt offered only college-level courses for the first time. In 1992, the first baccalaureate program of Business Administration was added to the curriculum, and the first Bachelor degrees were awarded in 1994. Four-year degrees in Biology, Communication, and Liberal Studies soon followed.
The wearing of a cap and gown goes back 800 years when universities started forming. Students and teachers wore clerical clothing to signify their religious status. The robes and hoods also kept the scholars warm in unheated buildings. In 1321, Oxford and Cambridge, the first schools to officiate graduation attire, required everyone to wear long gowns to create unity. At Reinhardt, those who have achieved a Latin honor designation, with a GPA 3.3 or higher, are recognized with gold honor cords. Faculty and those with a higher degree wear colored fabric that indicates their field of study.
Modern commencements continue to be formal and dignified and are the natural pinnacle of the school year. During the school’s long history, Reinhardt graduates have left prepared to face life with knowledge, self-confidence, and high morals.