Commencement | Virginia Museum of History & Culture
"In the Beginning, all America was Virginia."
William Byrd II
Next event
Featured Promotion

Immerse yourself in Virginia's history by visiting one of our exhibitions.


The Story of Virginia
Hear from a panel of experienced activists featured in the museum’s recent "Today’s Agents of Change" exhibition to…


This is part of our Take a Closer Look series. This regular feature offers a behind-the-scenes view of some of our hidden treasures in our library and what they reveal about our shared past.

Commencement exercises have a long history in North America. In Virginia, the College of William and Mary held its first graduation ceremony in 1700. There are several items in the VHS collections related to commencement exercises. This “Take a Closer Look” feature looks at a few of them.

Samantha Hukeless’s diploma

Samantha Hukeless undoubtedly was excited to graduate from Van de Vyver Institute, in Richmond, in June of 1934. The predominantly African American Van De Vyver Institute was originally begun as a school attached to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Jackson Ward; the school offered both academic and vocational courses. Founded in 1885, St. Joseph’s was the first Catholic institution for African Americans in the South. The school was begun a few years later; it was renamed the Van De Vyver Institute in 1910, in honor of Augustine Van de Vyver (1844–1911), who served as the bishop of the Diocese of Richmond from 1889 to 1911. The school operated under that name until 1969, when it was closed. In 1934 it put on a play as part of its commencement activities. Samantha Hukeless played “Henrietta Darby, the Widow” in the three-act comedy And Home Came Ted, by Walter Ben Hare. Hukeless, later married to James Roots, worked for many years as a clerical assistant and teacher’s aide at several Richmond middle and high schools.

View other items related to commencement exercises in the slide show below.

John Thomas Barefoot, Jr., Diploma Enter Fullscreen More information
John Thomas Barefoot, Jr., Diploma
Diploma awarded to John Thomas Barefoot, Jr., in 1928, by the Bliss Electrical School. The Bliss school began in Washington, D.C., but moved to Takoma Park in 1908. Bliss became well known for its training of electrical engineers, at a time when the field was rapidly expanding. The Bliss Electrical School was subsumed by Montgomery College in 1950. (VHS call number: Mss1 B2374a o.s.)
Dorothy Elizabeth Hicks Enter Fullscreen More information
Dorothy Elizabeth Hicks
Dorothy Elizabeth Hicks (1915-2002), circa 1937. Hicks modeled this fashionable outfit in front of “Battle Abbey,” the colloquial moniker for the building which then housed the Confederate Memorial Association. By 1946 the Confederate Memorial Association was subsumed by the Virginia Historical Society; the society moved its headquarters to Battle Abbey in 1959. A photograph of Hicks (then “Miss Dorothy Walton”) similar to this one appeared in a local newspaper; both of these images are found in her scrapbook. (VHS call number: Mss5:7 H5292:1)
Dorothy Elizabeth Hicks Scrapbook Enter Fullscreen More information
Dorothy Elizabeth Hicks Scrapbook
This is a page from a scrapbook compiled by Dorothy Elizabeth Hicks (1915–2002). Dorothy Hicks (née Walton) attended what was then Westhampton High School on Patterson Avenue in the West End of Richmond. Hicks kept photographs, birthday cards, calling cards, and commencement programs in her scrapbook, along with newspaper wedding announcements of friends and family members. (VHS call number: Mss5:7 H5292:1)
Van de Vyver Institute Diploma Enter Fullscreen More information
Van de Vyver Institute Diploma
Samantha Hukeless’s diploma from Van de Vyver Institute, 1934. (VHS call number: Mss 1 R6797a)
John Thomas Barefoot, Jr., Diploma
John Thomas Barefoot, Jr., Diploma
Dorothy Elizabeth Hicks
Dorothy Elizabeth Hicks
Dorothy Elizabeth Hicks Scrapbook
Dorothy Elizabeth Hicks Scrapbook
Van de Vyver Institute Diploma
Van de Vyver Institute Diploma

Stay engaged with our VIRTUAL events and DIGITAL programs. Click here for more info.


Help Notes:

  1. Only update text copy above line.
  2. Do not use cut or past.
  3. Do not use line breaks or cariage returns.
  4. Do not remove or backspace over line.
  5. Do not insert images or lists.
  6. To add and remove alert change the region settigns below for the VHS-sub (default theme) field below. Set to none to not display alert. Set to Content to display alert.


Related articles in the Virginia History Explorer