by Grace Webb
While students have been graduating from Mankato high schools since the 1870s, the commencement ceremony and other traditions have changed over the years. Mankato students used to buy fancy outfits for graduation, with some girls buying gowns that cost hundreds of dollars in today’s standards. Boys’ parents also bought them expensive suits. By the 1910s, the Mankato graduating classes were displaying a more uniform look, with many girls wearing white sailor suits to match.
In 1913, the school board started discussing caps and gowns for graduation, so students wouldn’t feel embarrassed if they couldn’t afford as dressy of outfits as their peers. While the idea had much support, classes didn’t begin using the caps and gown for several more years.
When students still had individualized outfits, local merchants ran into trouble with the class of 1917. It had been the custom for students to create a sort of yearbook every year, and the expenses were paid by securing advertisements from local businesses. However, this year, most businessmen refused to buy ad space because they said it wasn’t worth it. In retaliation, the class of 1917 boycotted all businesses who had refused. The students stopped buying clothes, shoes or accessories from these businessmen for some time to make their point.
Just as clothing changed over the years, so did the actual ceremonies. At first, graduation ceremonies (and graduation classes) started off small. Mankato’s class of 1876 was the first to graduate from Mankato High School, with nine students receiving their diplomas. By 1882, the class size had nearly doubled, with 16 students, and the ceremony took three hours. Instead of bringing in a commencement speaker, students would sing solos, recite essays, give speeches and play musical pieces. By 1909, the school had added a Junior-Senior Banquet, Field Day, Senior Picnic and Alumni Banquet.