June 16 - Pomp and Circumstance

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On June 16, 1891, Paul Laurence Dunbar graduated from Central High School in Dayton.  The commencement ceremony took place at the Grand Opera House, now known as the Victoria Theatre, on North Main Street.  After the students received their diplomas, they sang a farewell song with lyrics written by Paul.  The music was by the superintendent of music at the school, F. C. Mayer, who had composed student farewell songs in previous years.

The value and worth of the Central High School was never more clearly shown than last night, upon the occasion of the graduation of the '91 class of that educational institution.  Proud and happy fathers and mothers, many of them former graduates themselves, were present to see their sons and daughters.  The graduating class occupied chairs in the front of the stage, Captain C. B. Stivers, their capable principal sitting on their left.  Professor Mayer, the instructor in music, presided at the piano, and conducted the singing.  The fresh young voices of the scholars blended perfectly last night, and showed the careful training to which they had been subjected.  Miss Clara Emily Murphy delivered the valedictory.  At the conclusion of the valedictorian's remarks, President John E. Byrne, of the Board of Education, stepped forward to present the diplomas.  The beautiful farewell song composed by Paul L. Dunbar was then sung by the graduating class, closing the exercises.

"The Banner Class."  The Dayton Evening Herald (Dayton, Ohio).  June 17, 1891.  Page 8.

The wind is fair, the sails are spread,
Let hearts be firm, "God Speed" is said;
Before us lies the untried way,
And we're impatient at the stay.


At last we move, how thrills the heart,
So long impatient for the start!
Now up o'er hill and down through dell,
The echoes bring our song -- farewell.

The breezes take it up, and bear,
The loud refrain on wings of air;
And to the skies, the sad notes swell,
Of this our last farewell, farewell!

Excerpt from "Farewell Song," by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1891).

The names of all the graduates are printed on the commencement program.  Students at the top of the list had the best grades in the class.  Paul's name is not among them.

Commencement program

Central High School Commencement Program,  June 16, 1891.   The Paul Laurence Dunbar Collection, Dayton Metro Library (Dayton, Ohio).  MS-002, Box 1, Folder 3.

Years later, a friend recalled how Paul's farewell song was a significant milestone in the young poet's career.

As a child, he had composed verses in a tentative way;  but the class poem written upon his graduation seemed to fix his métier.  It was better than the usual jingle, and had a promise in its lines.  From time to time, during the two years, following his school life, fugitive verses appeared in the local newspapers that struck a popular chord.  People cut them out for their scrap-books, and asked, "Who is Paul Laurence Dunbar?"

Some Dayton Saints and Prophets, by Charlotte Reeve Conover.  United Brethren Publishing House (Dayton, Ohio).  1907.  Pages 182 - 183.