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A Walk Down History Lane: Country Day Commencement Since 1962

By Lisa Hernick, Archivist

Country Day’s first commencement ceremony was in 1962 and we awarded degrees to 15 graduates; the Class of 2024 includes 135 graduates who will become alumni on May 24—ready to take on new challenges in college and beyond. Country Day has grown since 1962, and with the changes to campus throughout the years, graduation proceedings have changed as well.

1962 Graduation program

According to the mimeographed program, the first commencement was held in the old Harris Gymnasium. Although all commencement programs from the 1960s say the ceremony was held in the Harris Gym, early photographs suggest that if the weather was nice commencement was held right outside the gymnasium. Today our graduating seniors wear caps and gowns, but in the 1960s and early1970s students wore dress clothes appropriate for a special occasion. Dress code specified, “coats and ties for male students of Upper School.” No other dress was noted.

The entire school community was invited to attend the graduation ceremony—the letter home to Country Day families says, “All school families are invited and urged to attend.” Students in grades 7–11 were required to attend and were asked to “reassemble at 4:00 p.m.” so they could attend as a group.

1970s graduation

A decade later the graduating class size had grown; the class of 1972 had 43 graduates and graduation was held outside on the Lineberger quadrangle, between Pell, Barnhardt, and what is now the Dowd Student Center.


1973 Graduation

The class of 1973 held their commencement in the lower level of the brand-new Learning Center.


1975 graduates in caps and gowns.

In 1975, graduates wore caps and gowns to the ceremony for the first time. Now, almost 50 years later, this tradition continues.

1980 was the last year before Country Day merged with Carmel Academy; the union that brought us Bissell Campus and created a separate space for our Middle School. The class of 1980 graduated 58 students.

1981 graduates outside

The following year, after the merger, the class of 1981 had 94 graduates. This graduation was also held outside on the Lineberger Quadrangle. During the commencement ceremony, the campus at 1440 Carmel Road was officially dedicated to James Cannon— becoming the Cannon Campus. (1982, Postscript, pg. 38)


Howard Cosell at graduation

The 101 graduates of the class of 1984 had a special treat for their graduation. Jim Beatty, husband of long-time faculty member Paulette Beatty, convinced his friend, internationally known ABC sports commentator Howard Cosell to speak at Country Day’s graduation gratis. If you remember the 1980s, you likely remember Howard Cosell’s distinct voice.


graduates and families in Harris Gym

The class of 1995’s commencement was held inside the old Harris Gymnasium, but the space was limited.

By the late 1990s, rain or shine, graduation was held outside the Harris Gym. Stewart Peery, 1997 graduate and current Upper School science teacher and IB Coordinator, remembers puddles gathering under the tent if it was raining. “You didn’t want to be too far to the edge of the tent or under the center seam,” he recalls.

First graduation in Bruton Smith Athletic Center

The 107 graduates from the Class of 2002 were the first class of students to have commencement in the newly constructed Harris Gymnasium in the Bruton Smith Athletic Center. This was the location of our commencement ceremonies for the next 19 years.

Members of the class of 2020 won’t soon forget their graduation during the pandemic. Due to COVID-19, plans for a traditional graduation ceremony were quickly replaced. The 115 students from the class of 2020 picked up their diplomas in the Hance Family Gallery with only the Head of School Mark Reed and Head of Upper School Matt Less and members of their immediate family present. Despite the safety precautions, the air of celebration was felt by all.

2021 graduation in Belk stadium

May 2021 marked the first graduation to be held in Belk Stadium. Due to continued COVID-19 precautions, the ceremony was held outside, at the stadium, so guests could maintain social distancing while sitting in family groups.


Class of 2022 in Harris Performance Gym

The class of 2022 was the first group of graduates to have their commencement in the new Harris Performance Gym—a space that is fitting for our students as they end their time here at Country Day and start on the next phase of their lives.

Country Day graduations have been held in eight different locations on campus over the years, but the heart of the graduation ceremony has remained the same: To celebrate our students as they head on to the next chapter of their lives.