Twice a year, Cal Poly celebrates its students’ ultimate achievement: graduation. Often referred to as commencement, this celebration has its roots at Cal Poly going all the way back to 1906 with the first graduating class.
Cal Poly was a completely different place 112 years ago. There were eight students in Cal Poly’s first graduating class. They graduated from the Agriculture, Mechanics, and Household Arts programs, the only programs offered at Cal Poly during this period. Four of the graduates were men, and four were women.
The day of commencement, a morning assembly on campus was followed by a ceremony in the evening at the Pavilion Opera House in downtown San Luis Obispo. Eight students received their diplomas: H. Floyd Tout, brothers Gustav Wade and Henry Wade, Herbert Hughes Cox, Lilian Byrne Fox, sisters Irene Inez Righetti and Laura V. Righetti, and Katherine Earl Twombly.
The 1906 graduates completed a very different curriculum from Cal Poly students today. In the year 1906, the agriculture classes included butter and cheese making, breeds of livestock, irrigation and surveying, feeding and care of animals, physiology, and plans and specifications along for buildings. The mechanics students studied electricity and electrical working, engines and boilers, higher mathematics, and architectural drawing and designing. These two areas of concentration also required their students to enroll in geometry, trigonometry, physics, chemistry, history, English, surveying, and forge work. The domestic science course of study included dress making, millinery, house construction and furnishing, bookkeeping, home nursing, catering, serving, and sloyd.¹
You can learn a lot about the graduates in the June commencement issue of the Polytechnic Journal, which was a campus publication written by students. The Class of 1906 wrote a history of their class, a Class Will and Class Prophecy. Read the full coverage in the Polytechnic Journal: http://digital.lib.calpoly.edu/rekl-25857.
Their legacy lives on with two unusual gifts from the eight students to the campus: their “class tree,” a valley oak that still stands on California Boulevard, and a commemorative spade that was used for many years of class tree plantings, which lives in University Archives.
- Morris Eugene Smith, A history of California State Polytechnic College: the first fifty years, 1901-1951 (Eugene, OR: University of Oregon, 1957), 36.