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Tyrone continues 124-year commencement tradition

At 7 p.m. this evening, when 137 seniors process down the aisle of the Tyrone Area High School auditorium for Commencement, they will continue a Tyrone Graduation tradition that stretches back 124 years to 1881. Since the earliest days of Tyrone High School, the locations, celebrations and orations or speeches surrounding commencement greatly have changed.
Before 1900, the Academy of Music or Opera House, situated at Bald Eagle Avenue and Tenth Street, provided the location for commencement. The Tyrone School Board chose the Opera House because Tyrone’s First High School contained no auditorium. Attached to Logan Elementary School, where the Sheetz store now stands, Tyrone’s first high school contained four rooms – one for ninth grade, one for tenth, one for eleventh and one for twelfth grade. In those days, the Pruner Building (now the site of Fink’s Hardware) housed business and commercial high school students.
One hundred, twenty-four years ago in 1881, Tyrone High graduated only one student by the name of Claude Jones, the son of General Benjamin C. Jones, possibly from the Tyrone Opera House. When Tyrone’s Opera House closed about 1910, the school board transferred graduation to the old First Methodist Church Sanctuary, situated diagonally from where the Wesley Methodist Church now stands.
In 1911, Tyrone opened its second senior high school building, located at Lincoln Avenue and 13th Street. Although this second building contained an auditorium seating 300 people, it did not prove large enough to accommodate all the guests at graduation. Consequently, once the Pennsylvania Railroad opened the Tyrone YMCA in 1914, for a number of years Tyrone seniors graduated from its spacious second floor auditorium, seating about 600 people. After George Wilson tore down his Bijou Theatre and erected the Wilson Theatre on the site of Burger King Restaurant, for the third time, the Tyrone School Board transferred high school graduations to that elegant auditorium. There commencement remained for about 40 years, until it permanently got relocated to the present Tyrone Area High School auditorium along Clay Avenue.
Since 1881, across 124 years of graduation in Tyrone, commencement locations have changed, as have commencement celebrations. To be certain, the junior/senior prom celebration did not always exist. In the early days of the last century, before the prom came into existence, Tyrone High School students staged a junior reception for the seniors. However, since school authorities frowned upon dancing, students had to find a dance hall in downtown Tyrone as the backdrop for their graduation celebration. Of course, after the High School, along Lincoln Avenue became a reality, school authorities permitted students to stage the junior/senior prom in a lavishly decorated gymnasium with a prom after-glow extravaganza sometimes held in the high school building.
Starting in about 1933 with the opening of Gray Memorial Field, commencement celebrations also occurred in the form of annual athletic field days, held during the opening days of May. During the 1930s, Tyrone schools had launched a physical education program for all ages. At the start, many folks in the community opposed physical education. To make gym more popular, the Tyrone schools inaugurated sporting field days at Gray Memorial Field. This athletic celebration acted as an early May prelude to an academic event that would come early in June – Graduation.
Finally, along with locations and celebrations, graduation speeches or orations also exhibited a different flavor in the earliest days of Tyrone’s schools. On the evening before commencement, in those World War I days before radio, telephone or television had appeared on the small-town horizon, Tyrone citizens turned out downtown in large numbers for an event called the school graduation oration. For this event, students in Tyrone’s academic and business departments each chose three students to present senior speeches, called orations. Amidst an excited crowd, judges evaluated these six student speakers. At the close of these original graduation orations, each of the participating students received a prize ranging from 10 dollars to two dollars, in pure gold.
Certainly, any citizen attending Tyrone’s 124th graduation this evening at 7 p.m. comprehends that commencement locations, celebrations and orations have altered dramatically with the passing decades. Yet though many outward and visible signs have changed across the years, the inward spirit of the school sin Tyrone has remained the same as Josephine (Derr) Hite testified when she penned the words to Tyrone’s Alma Mater in 1925: When we grow old and gray / Memories will linger still / Happy the hours we spent in school / Their mission shall fulfill / Life will be sweet and fair / Joy will awake anew / May we ever faithful be / Dear Alma Mater true / Dear Alma Mater true.