School Archives

June 2019 - Pomp and Circumstance: Graduation Programs Reflect Magnificat History & U.S. Cultural Trends

Pomp and Circumstance: Graduation Programs Reflect Magnificat History & U.S. Cultural Trends

By Mary Cay Doherty

Please click here to view the digital poster.

Recently, the Communications department asked me for examples of Magnificat’s past logos. A moment of panic set in—especially when I realized that no research had ever been done on this topic. I was starting from scratch. Fortunately, I stumbled into the perfect “logo” resource – graduation programs. Beginning at the beginning with our 1959 graduation, I moved forward in 10 year increments to follow changes in our logos as depicted on five subsequent graduation programs in 1969, 1979, 1989, 1999, and 2009.

I scanned the graduation program covers and sent them to the Communications department via email. Mission accomplished.

But then I wondered… When did these logos change? What else might we be able to learn about Magnificat and U.S. history using these six specific programs as our guide? So let’s cue the march, don our graduation garb, dust off the programs, and settle in for another Magnificat time travel adventure.

Logos: Signs of the Times

In practice, humans have relied on pictorial representations since the days of hieroglyphics. In the Middle Ages, family crests were akin to logos (click here for the history). The word logo, however, dates to the 1930s and is short for “logogram” or “logotype” – literally “word symbol.”

The figure below gives a side by side comparison of Magnificat’s logos as depicted in the 1959, 1989, and 2009 graduation programs. In analyzing the six graduation programs in question, logos on the 1959, 1969, and 1979 programs were relatively consistent. Similarly, logos on the cover of the 1999 and 2009 programs were almost identical. But the 1989 graduation program logo was decidedly different. Further research indicated that this particularly logo was in use for only 13 years from 1982 until 1995. So while our first logo endured for 22 years, and the current iteration has been in place for 23 years, the “M” over triangle logo had a significantly shorter lifespan. Perhaps a future article will delve into the history of this particular logo and how it came and went so quickly…

Tassels & Mortar Boards; Brick & Mortar

These six graduation programs also provide information about Magnificat’s facilities. According to the 1959 program, commencement was held in the Magnificat Auditorium. In the 1969 program, however, the location had shifted to the Music Hall of Cleveland Public Auditorium. Further research in our Archives shows that Commencement Exercises for Magnificat were held at Cleveland Public Auditorium from 1960-1973 which means that only one graduation was held in the Magnificat Auditorium. The 1979, 1989, and 1999 programs document that graduation was held at the Lakewood Civic Auditorium, and deeper analysis confirms that this location was used for Magnificat graduations from 1974-2004. By 2009, however, the graduation ceremony had returned to Magnificat. Our Performing Arts Center, which was dedicated in October 2004, has served as the location for Magnificat’s commencement exercises since 2005.

While further research may be warranted, we can deduce that Magnificat’s graduating classes and attendant family and friends quickly outgrew our auditorium’s capacity, and so alternate locations were selected. And while many factors contributed to need for the Performing Arts Center, the draw of holding commencement exercises on campus must surely have played a role.

Shifting Cultural Gender Norms

Today, women are not only at the helm of Magnificat High School, but at the center and heart of all we do. In this, we model for our students what it means “to learn, lead, and serve in the spirit of Mary’s Magnificat.” In today’s world, this is intuitive: Women should be a dominant presence at an all-girls school. But our graduation programs reveal that in Magnificat’s early years, men, not women, filled the graduation ceremonial roles. As time progressed, however, our graduation programs reflected changes in cultural norms that allow women and men to share these ceremonial roles.

For Magnificat’s first Commencement on June 1, 1959, men – more specifically ordained men – dominated the ceremony. Magnificat’s Chaplain Reverend Richard E. McHale presented the graduates, while Cleveland Auxiliary Bishop Floyd L. Begin awarded diplomas with assistance from the Reverend Edmund J. Ahern (Pastor of St. Christopher Catholic Church) and Reverend William N. Novicky, (the Assistant Superintendent of Schools). The “Address to Graduates” was delivered by Reverend Clarence E. Elwell, Superintendent of Schools for the Cleveland Diocese.

At the 1979 Magnificat Commencement, men and women shared the ceremonial duties. Sister Bernadette Vetter presented the graduates. Under her religious name Sister Mary of Lourdes, Sister Bernadette had served as Magnificat’s founding principal from 1955-1961. She returned to Magnificat from 1973-1986 as a teacher. Principal Sister Rose Schafer (1974-1981) conferred the diplomas. Meanwhile, Magnificat’s chaplain, the Reverend Peter J. Lenahan was the Master of Ceremonies, and the Reverend Henry F. Birkenhauer gave the Commencement Address.

Fast forward 20 years to the 1999 Commencement. At this particular graduation, women filled all of ceremonial posts. Magnificat’s Assistant Principal Mrs. Jodi Campbell presented the graduates, and Principal Sister Mary Pat Cook, H.M. awarded the diplomas. The Master of Ceremonies was Kathleen LaPorte, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and the Donna Kelly Rego (Class of 1961) gave the Commencement Address. Quite a “flip” in the ceremonial leadership compared to the 1959 graduation!

In the span of these 40 years (1959-1999), increasing prominence for women in the ceremonial roles reflects broader cultural shifts in the United States for women’s equality. In particular, the greater inclusion of women in the 1979 Commencement may be a result of the Second Wave Feminist Movement which began in the early 1960s and ended in the 1980s.

Leadership Changes at Magnificat

The 1999 Commencement program noted two important leadership changes for Magnificat High School: Governance by a Board of Directors and adoption of the President-Principal leadership model.

As the 1999 Master of Ceremonies, Kathleen LaPorte represented Magnificat’s Board of Trustees which was formed in 1986 when Magnificat was incorporated. Today, this body is known as the Board of Directors. The Board is comprised primarily of lay members within the Magnificat family—alumnae, parents, friends—but also includes representatives from the Sisters of the Humility of Mary.

The 1999 program also bears witness to the newly adopted President-Principal leadership model. In 1997, Sister Carolyn Marshall, Principal from 1988-1997, became Magnificat’s first President, and Sister Mary Pat Cook stepped into the role of Principal. In this change, Magnificat positioned herself at the fore of a Catholic secondary education trend. According to Bob Regan of Carney, Sandoe & Associates, only 20% of Catholic secondary schools operated under this model in 1992, but by 2015 about 56% of the 1200 Catholic high schools in the US had adopted it.

Increasing Post-Secondary Education Opportunities for Women

Our graduation programs also allow us to glimpse changes in the educational opportunities of women from the late 1950s through the first decade of the 21st century.

Although today’s statistics track students’ post-secondary education plans, we don’t have this data for most of our graduating classes. But using graduation program scholarship data and US census data, we can infer that scholarships, and by extension educational opportunities, for women expanded during this time period.

In 1959, eight of the 82 students (10%) in the graduating class were identified as scholarship recipients. Of those six were four-year scholarships and two scholarships were for two years of study.

The 1969 graduation program identified 32 student scholarship recipients among the 241 graduates (13%). The scholarship range from one to four years and include schools such as Notre Dame College, John Carroll University, Oberlin College, and Kent State University. Out-of-state schools included the University of Kentucky, Northwestern University and the University of Detroit.

In the 1999 graduation program, 37 of the 185 graduating seniors are listed as scholarship recipients (20%). Scholarships were awarded by schools such as Princeton University, the University of Notre Dame, and The Catholic University of America.

In these three graduation programs, the percentage of students who received scholarships climbed from 10% in 1959 to 13% in 1969, and by 1999, 20% of the graduating seniors earned college scholarships. Of course, scholarships alone do not reflect the number of college bound students (certainly many students without scholarships attend college). And we are assuming that the financial assistance provided by a scholarship increases the likelihood that the recipient will attend college. Additionally, we know that the rising tide of Second (and Third) Wave Feminism in America broadened many horizons for women. So within these parameters, we can infer that the increased number of scholarships awarded to Magnificat graduates from 1959-1999 also reflects expanded education opportunities for our young women.

Magnificat’s counseling department keeps more comprehensive data on our later graduating classes. In 1999, for example, 95% of the 185 graduates planned to attend a four-year college after graduation and 2% planned to attend a two-year college. And of the 201 young women in the 2009 class, 96% planned to attend a four year-college and another 3.5% planned to attend a two-year college. In the 2019 graduating class, 97% planned to attend a four-year college and 2% planned to attend a two-year college.

Magnificat can be proud of these statistics, especially in light of U.S. national statistics. According 2016 U.S. Census Report on Educational Attainment, in 1967 only 8% of U.S. women over age 25 held a Bachelor’s degree or higher. By 2015, that percentage rose to 33%. Statistics like these reaffirm our graduation program scholarship data that more women than ever attending college and earning.

But these national statistics also highlight the importance of Magnificat and her alumnae in the world. When 97% of the 2019 Magnificat graduating class plans to attend a four-year college, it is easy to imagine that “everyone” has a college degree. National statistics are a sobering reminder that a college degrees are rarer than we realize, and more importantly, that those who do earn them bear the mantle of leadership responsibility in our society. We can take pride in knowing that our graduates will carry Magnificat’s core values into the world as they work to better society.


Our journey began with six graduation programs intended to show changes in Magnificat’s logo over time. And where exactly have we ended? Let’s recap information gleaned about Magnificat and U.S. culture from graduation programs in 10 year increments beginning with 1959 and ending with 2009.

  • - Magnificat High School has had 3 distinct logos. The first and third each endured for 22 and 23 years, respectively, and the 2nd logo was used for only 13 years from 1982-1995.
  • - The Magnificat Auditorium was home to only the first Commencement. From 1960-2004, Commencements were held at the Cleveland Public Auditorium or the Lakewood Civic Auditorium. Upon completion of the Performing Arts Center, Commencement returned to Magnificat High School in 2005. The PAC has been home to Magnificat Commencements since 2005.
  • - In comparing the 1959, 1979, and 1999 graduation programs, we see an increasing role for women in the Magnificat Commencement ceremonial duties.
    • - In the 1959 graduation, ordained priests fulfilled the ceremonial duties of presenting graduates, conferring degrees, and addressing the graduates.
    • - In 1979, the ceremonial duties were split between men and women. Women presented graduates and conferred diplomas, while men served as Master of Ceremonies and delivered the Commencement Address.
    • - In the 1999 graduation, women took center stage for all the ceremonial graduation roles.
  • - Using scholarship data from graduation programs, we hypothesize that post-secondary education opportunities expanded for Magnificat women from 1959-1999.
    • - 10% of the 1959 class received scholarships
    • - 13% of the class of 1969 received scholarships
    • - 20% of the class of 1999 received scholarships.
  • - U.S. Census data reinforces that in the U.S. overall, educational opportunities for women have indeed increased.
    • - Whereas only 8% of women over 25 held a Bachelor’s degree or higher in 1967, the percentage rose to 33% by 2015.
  • - In the past two decades, 95% or more of Magnificat’s graduates have planned to attend four-year colleges/universities. This means that our graduates are poised to take on leadership roles and shape the world using Magnificat’s Mission and Core Values as their guiding principles.
I hope you have enjoyed this historical look back at some of our Commencement programs. Please don’t forget to view the digital poster. Enjoy the summer, and I will be back next fall with more Archives Antics.


_____. “20: Civic Auditorium.” Lakewood History Files. Accessed 5/28/2019. http://lakewoodhistory.org/history%20files/civicauditorium.html#20:%20Civic%20Auditorium.

______. “logo (n.).” Online Etymology Dictionary. Accessed 5/28/2019. https://www.etymonline.com/word/logo.

______. “logogram (n.).” Online Etymology Dictionary. Accessed 5/28/2019. https://www.etymonline.com/word/logogram.

______. Magnificat High School First Commencement. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 1, 1959.

______. Magnificat High School Eleventh Annual Commencement. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 2, 1969.

______. Magnificat High School Twenty-first Annual Commencement. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 4, 1979.

______. Magnificat High School Thirty-first Annual Commencement. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 7, 1989.

______. Magnificat High School Forty-first Annual Commencement. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 3, 1999.

______. Magnificat High School Fifty-first Commencement. Rocky River: Magnificat High School, June 3, 2009.

______. “Public Auditorium and Conference Center.” City of Cleveland. Accessed 5/28/2019. http://www.city.cleveland.oh.us/CityofCleveland/Home/Government/CityAgencies/ParksRecreationandProperties/AuditoriumandConferenceCenter.

Drucker, Sally Ann. “Betty Friedan: The Three Waves of Feminism.” Ohio Humanities. April 27, 2018. http://www.ohiohumanities.org/betty-friedan-the-three-waves-of-feminism/.

Lant, Karla. “The history of logos.” 99designs. Accessed 5/28/2019. https://99designs.com/blog/design-history-movements/the-history-of-logos/.

Ryan, Camille L. and Bauman, Kurt. “Educational Attainment in the United States: 2015; Population Characteristics, Current Population Reports.” United States Census Bureau (March 2016): 1-12. https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/p20-578.pdf.

Regan, Bob. “Catholic School President/Principal Model, Pt 1.” The Puzzle: Blog, Carney, Sandoe & Associates, November 23, 2015. https://www.carneysandoe.com/blog-post/catholic-school-presidentprincipal-model-pt-1.

Magnificat High School, a girls' Catholic college-preparatory high school, founded and sponsored by the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, educates young women holistically to learn, lead, and serve in the spirit of Mary’s Magnificat.