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June 20, 2013

Graduates were given words of wisdom at OHS in 1923

By Mark Simonson
The Daily Star

---- — I had to go look it up. I kept my high school commencement program in with my yearbook, and I was trying to remember recently who spoke at our graduation ceremony. I couldn’t remember much about it except I sat between Kathy Simmons and Mary Sisson, because we sat in alphabetical order, nearly 280 of us at Oneonta High School, the Class of 1976.

Lloyd Baker, principal, and Eloise Ellis, Board of Education president, spoke and likely told us to work hard in order to succeed, and while I guess I did just that, I don’t remember exactly what they said. A nice event, but beyond photos it didn’t get much media coverage.

Now as a local historian, I like to look back at graduation events from the previous century. They got thoroughly covered by the newspaper, and the 1923 edition of the OHS graduation sounded pretty interesting, with student speeches that are fairly relevant to our present day world.

Oneonta graduations were held on Wednesday nights back in the 1920s, so the workday was over and people could attend the ceremonies. The Class of 1923 had 57 graduates, and their ceremony was held at the high school auditorium. This was when the school was found on Academy Street, and an audience of this size was still somewhat manageable for that space, as later when classes got bigger the ceremonies were moved to the nearby Oneonta Theatre.

“The graduation exercises, the fifty-fourth in the history of the school, were witnessed by a throng of relatives and friends that filled every seat and overflowed into the halls,” The Oneonta Star reported on Thursday, June 28. The platform was decorated with palms and ferns. Canning’s Orchestra and the Girls’ Chorus provided music in between the speeches and awarding of the diplomas.

Six of the graduates were chosen to speak.

Miss Cora Volwider began with her subject, “America and the World Court.” Her speech ended with the plea that America take its place in the court to assure that worldwide peace be assured, as a leader of nations.

Miss Gladys Ward later spoke of “American Immigration and Its Restrictions,” upholding the idea that “the restriction upon immigration is wise and just because it makes possible the best adjustment for the immigrant, the better economic control of the labor problems, the infinitely greater security for America, and a truer devotion to American principles and ideals.”

In her discussion of “The American Home,” Miss Esther Owen brought out many facts of interest in regard to the conditions that threaten the home as the backbone of civilization. She said that if men would talk of saving the home as much as they talk of saving the state, church and the nation, these latter institutions would be taken care of automatically.

Arthur Lewis spoke on “An American Economic Situation,” regarding a vital problem of the time, coal. The nation, despite being rich beyond all other nations in coal resources, experiences coal shortages and high prices. Lewis said “the coal industry will continue to give unsatisfactory service until the public realizes its deficiencies and demands a definite remedy.”

Other speeches were about music and poetry. Dr. George J. Dann, Oneonta’s superintendent of schools, was the final speaker and suggested the Class of 1923 enter life and follow five fundamental values, “a healthy body, a respect for sacred things, a respect for the flag, a well-informed mind, and a well-defined desire to achieve.”

One of the members of the Class of 1923 came back to Oneonta to be a longtime administrator at the Oneonta Junior High School, Miss Edna Tripp, principal.

On Monday: A fond farewell to a Portlandville school in 1983.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at