For the first time in the history of Madera High School, in 1905 its senior class did not graduate in Athletic Hall on Yosemite Avenue. The commencement exercises took place in the assembly room of the brand-new High School building on L Street.
Therefore, it is entirely understandable that excitement would fill the air on that June evening, as the audience stood for the entrance of the members of the graduating class — all five of them. School Board President William Hughes took the stage, and Rhodes Borden, Elsie Edwards, Ludema Montoya, Abram Preciado, and Florence Reid filed in for this historic occasion.
If the guests thought the program would be short and sweet because of the size of the class of 1905, they would soon discover how wrong they had been. Hughes introduced each graduate, and then the celebration began.
First up on the program was Miss Reid who performed a piano solo, which was “artistically rendered.” Rhodes came next with his oration on Japan.
Coming as it did while Russia and Japan were at war, Borden was lavish in his praise of the latter. He pointed to the “great strides” Japan had made in the previous 50 years and insisted that it was the duty of the United States to see to it that its development continue.
Borden told his audience that there was no need to be worried about the so-called “Yellow Peril,” with regard to Japan. He said the greatest threat that might develop from a close relationship between Japan and America was the threat that the former might absorb some of the vices of the United States. He said it was our duty to see that Japan imitate “all that was admirable about America” and to help them to avoid our vices.
The Madera Tribune reporter who covered the graduation labeled Borden’s address as “well-worded” and delivered in “an easy and clear style.”
Elsie Edwards was next on the program with a recital of the class history. She went to great lengths to contrast the education offered in the new building with that that had been given in the old school.
Elsie was highly complimentary of her fellow students and their teachers and predicted a bright future for them as they went out into the world and assumed “positions of honor and trust.”
Maud Williams from the junior class gave the graduates a break with a vocal solo, and then Abram Preciado took the stage and gave an oration on “municipal ownership” that probably shocked some of the people.
Preciado contrasted the graft that was present in private corporations in the United States with conditions that existed in Glasgow, Scotland where public utilities are owned by the municipality. He predicted that “municipal ownership would be the death knell of graft” and concluded by reminding his fellow graduates that the money spent on them to give them an education was for the purpose of making them good citizens.
By that time, the audience was ready for the guest speaker, Chester Rowell, editor of the Fresno Republican newspaper.
Rowell delivered an address on the “utility” of high schools and contrasted those in America with those of England and Germany. The newspaperman went on to say that while some people thought too much money was spent on high schools, he took the position that the money was well spent because the graduates were well-fitted for the battle of life and were prepared to pay the debt they owed those who came before them and to those who would come after.
After Rowell’s speech, came the moment for which everyone was waiting — the presentation of the five diplomas. The two-hour exercise ended with a song by Thekla Rosenthal and a farewell by Hughes who also noted publically that all of the teachers would have jobs the next year.
And so it went, that first Madera High School graduation ever held on campus; it was a festive affair. In time Memorial Stadium would be built, and the commencement exercises would be held there. The number of graduates would skyrocket, but the excitement of that class of 1905 would never be eclipsed. That’s often the case when you are the first.
Originally published in the Madera Tribune