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A Timeline of MHS Commencements through the Years

As the Class of 2016 prepares to graduate from Milton Hershey School, many seniors are filled with excitement and trepidation. For MHS students, this campus has not only been a School but also their home away from home. Seven seniors have been enrolled since kindergarten and will join a special group of alumni called “lifers.”

The Class of 2016 is the largest in school history with many unique characteristics. But no matter what year they graduated, all MHS alumni share similar emotions as they walk across the Commencement stage.

To get a true picture of what has changed and stayed the same over the years, we looked back at some of the major Commencement milestones in MHS history.

1935—The First Commencement

In the early 1900s, Hershey Industrial School (HIS) graduates—the school’s previous name before being changed to Milton Hershey School—attended Hershey High School’s graduation each year. In 1935, HIS started a new tradition and organized its first individual Commencement.

Held in the Hershey Theatre, the theme of the 1935 Commencement was “The Contribution of the Hershey Industrial School to Citizenship.” The ceremony featured messages from three honors students from vocational, commercial and academic courses, and Mr. Milton Hershey presented the seniors’ awards. The memories and traditions formed at this first Commencement have remained intact over the years.

The first class to graduate from the new Junior-Senior High School.

The first class to graduate from the new Junior-Senior High School.

1942-1945—Commencement During World War II

Throughout World War II, the school’s Commencement ceremonies had few attendees because many students were serving in the military. In 1942 and 1943, Commencement was held in the Junior-Senior High School. Many alumni who attended these ceremonies had the pleasure of receiving their diploma directly from Mr. Hershey.

Milton Hershey is sitting on the stage on the right side of the podium and table in the first row.

Milton Hershey is sitting on the stage on the right side of the podium and table in the first row.

In 1945, graduates who were fighting in World War II  were honored at Commencement with Blue Star Banners on their chairs.

Blue star banners are located on chairs of students who were away serving in WWII.

Blue star banners are located on chairs of students who were away serving in WWII.

1953—50th Anniversary of the Town of Hershey

For the first time, Commencement in 1953 was a celebratory affair that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the founding of Hershey, Pennsylvania. Milton Hershey School joined together with Hershey High School and Hershey Junior College for a large Commencement ceremony in the Hershey Arena.

The Commencement speaker was then president of the Pennsylvania State College [University], Dr. Milton Eisenhower, President Dwight Eisenhower’s younger brother. He gave an inspiring message titled “Framework of Peace.”


Milton Hershey School, Hershey High School, and Hershey Junior College in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the town.

1971—First Commencement in Founders Hall

The historic architectural wonder, Founders Hall, opened on Milton Hershey School’s campus in November 1970. During the design and planning phases, the main priority was to create a space large enough to seat the entire school family for chapel services and a stage big enough for students to showcase their talents.

The first Commencement in the new, impressive building was held on June 7, 1971. President of the Pennsylvania State University, Dr. John W. Oswald, was the speaker.

First graduation in the new Founders Hall.

The first graduation in the new Founders Hall.

1995—Coretta Scott King as Featured Speaker

Over the years, many noteworthy celebrities and public figures in the fields of business, education, medicine, television, space and sports spoke at Milton Hershey School Commencement ceremonies.

In 1995, Coretta Scott King gave one of the most memorable and moving messages. She spoke about her husband, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and shared the message that non-violence should be a way of life. She also recited lines from one of Dr. King’s last speeches, “Drum Major for Justice,” and told the audience to:

“Be a drum major for justice. Be a drum major for love. Be a drum major for peace.  Be a drum major for righteousness. Be a drum major for human rights. Be a drum major for the beloved community with all your heart and soul.”

Coretta Scott King, Commencement speaker on June 4, 1995.

Coretta Scott King, Commencement speaker on June 4, 1995.

2009-2010—Centennial Celebration of MHS

The beginning of the 2009 academic year marked the start of the school’s centennial celebration—the 100-year anniversary of the founding of Milton Hershey School. The 2010 Commencement was an exciting culmination of the momentous year, and for the first time, graduating seniors also wore brown and gold Commencement gowns to represent the MHS colors.

Class President Cris Ramirez ’10 carried the new MHS Ceremonial Mace during the ceremony, which was made of wood from The Homestead (Milton Hershey’s birthplace). The first documented use of a mace in an academic setting occurred in 1589 when Queen Elizabeth I presented Oxford University with a royal mace as a symbol of strength, authority, and knowledge. Since that time, the mace has become a fixture at academic convocations. MHS Technology Student Association members and their teacher constructed the mace for the occasion.

Mr. Hershey’s Boys and Girls

As we reflect back on over 75 Commencement ceremonies in MHS history, the student-produced School Industrialist from the first 1935 ceremony reported an inspiring message that has held true for years to come.

“When we stop to think of all the events of the past year, we cannot help thinking that we have arrived partially at the goal for which we have strived…We will feel proud in our adult life to realize that we were fortunate enough to attend this wonderful institution and to have been one of ‘Mr. Hershey’s Boys.’”

The class of 2016 has also reached many monumental milestones—including the 10,000th graduate—and should feel proud to be one of Mr. Hershey’s boys and girls.

The first girl to graduate from MHS.

One of the first girls to graduate from MHS.

Milton Hershey School does not discriminate in admissions or other programs and services on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, sex, religious creed or disability. Read important MHS policies on equal opportunity and diversity, equal employment opportunity, and more.