Alma Mater and the Commencement Connection

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Dedication of Alma Mater, 1929

Eighty-seven years ago, on a warm day in June, our Alma Mater statue was unveiled as the centerpiece of the 1929 commencement week program.  The concert band played and a host of officials gave speeches.  UI President David Kinley prophetically declared, “The significance of this gift is for the future, what it will mean for future Illini.”[1]

President David Kinley (left) and Lorado Taft in front of Taft's Alma Mater during the sculpture's dedication, 1929

President David Kinley (left) and Lorado Taft in front of Taft’s Alma Mater during the sculpture’s dedication, 1929

Surely, he had no idea how true these words would be.

Sculpted by Lorado Taft (Class of 1879) and funded through the senior gifts of the classes of 1923 through 1929 and the Alumni Association, Alma was “temporarily” erected behind the Auditorium (named Foellinger in 1985) until a more prominent location could be secured.   She remained at this spot for thirty-three years. [2]

In 1962, the Alumni Association identified the perfect setting for Alma—the corner of Wright and Green, her present location.  Not everyone agreed and many felt more discussion was needed.  A Daily Illini reporter wrote:

Alma Mater is moved from Foellinger to its current location, August 20, 1962

Alma Mater is moved from Foellinger to its current location, August 20, 1962

“Admittedly, the site behind the Auditorium is isolated from the mainstream of campus events. But what a cheap and tawdry relocation has been suggested! The Green-Wright intersection is congested with cars, trucks, Illi-Busses, a bicycle lane, the constant roar of traffic and the blue haze of auto exhausts. No perspective, no quiet, no thoughtfulness is possible nearby.  Placing the beautiful Alma Mater in such a location seems to be a violation of all standards of good taste .  We hope, indeed, that the Alumni Association will not move to an ultimate blasphemy and place traffic signals in the hands of Learning and Labor, providing the Alma Mater figure with a No Left Turn signboard.” [3]

The move occurred in summer (August 20, 1962) with little fanfare. [4]  Except for a brief visit to Chicago for restoration in 2012-2014, Alma Mater has graced this corner ever since.

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Students have their photo taken with Alma, 2016

Over the last decades, one of the most memorable Illinois commencement traditions is for new graduates to line up for photos in front of the Alma Mater.  In 2010, Public Affairs made this tradition even more special by outfitting Alma in her own regalia for the occasion.

Illinois’s Live Alma Cam:

http://illinois.edu/about/almacam.html

Congratulations Graduates!

 

1 Daily Illini, June 12, 1929

2 University Archives Reference Files, Alma Mater folder

3 Daily Illini, June 5, 1962

4 Illinois Alumni News, October 1962

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