Ohio History Journal

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Rutherford B. Hayes upon graduation from Kenyon College in

1842 gave the valedictory for his class. He also presented an

oration, as did his eight classmates. As Hayes came into prominence,

a legend grew about the superior qualities of his talks that com-

mencement. This reputation was increased rather than diminished

by the local newspaper report of the proceedings that day, the only

available public evidence. It was long believed that the script of

Hayes's speeches had been destroyed. Happily the manuscript of

these speeches has recently been discovered by Director Watt

Marchman among some heretofore uncataloged papers of President

Hayes in the Hayes Memorial Library at Fremont, Ohio.

Hayes's speeches at commencement, August 3, 1842, are not dis-

appointing, in spite of the inflated proportions the legend assumed.

Taken as an example of his abilities at the peak of his college

career, they show an advanced stature and hold promise of future

development. He subsequently developed these potentialities quite

consciously by rigorous self-discipline to fit himself for the highest

office in the land. Although Hayes never was a silver-tongued

orator of the style most popular in the midcentury, by dint of con-

stant practice, reinforced by careful composition, he did become a

forceful and effective speaker.

Commencements in the nineteenth century were lengthy enter-

tainments, which parents were willing to endure patiently for the

pleasure of seeing their own sons perform individually. Hayes

made an appearance last upon the Kenyon commencement program

in 1842 after eight orations, two poems, eight musical selections,

and the conferring of degrees. Each of Hayes's eight classmates'

orations, although none are now located, may be assumed to have

been of moderate length, or of about fifteen minutes duration.

An interlude of music was provided between every two orations.

* Wyman W. Parker is university librarian of the University of Cincinnati. Before

taking his present position he was librarian of the Kenyon College Library.