Eleven graduating seniors—all women—marched from Gammage Library to Ashurst Auditorium on the campus of Arizona State Teachers College (now Northern Arizona University) in Flagstaff the year this photograph was taken. They were joined by 15 candidates for advanced degrees, swelling the ranks to 26—still a paltry few in the last year of World War II. A month earlier, the war had ended in Europe. In two months it would end in the Pacific with the surrender of Japan.
War news filled the yearbook that June. A list of students missing or killed in action was a poignant reminder of where all the men had gone. In a forward, the editors write, “The whole world is searching for peace, for security, for freedom.”
A V-12 naval unit was stationed on campus during the war years, using classrooms and dorm rooms for an ever-changing group of naval aviators in training. The yearbook staff reported, “A Naval training unit is a vigorous and active part of the campus and collegiate life of ASTC.”
The Ski Club was revived and used for snow-and-survival-training. For entertainment, the unit’s chaplain, Rev. George E. Gooderham, hosted dances at the Episcopal Church.
The June 18 graduation ceremonies were combined with the investiture of a new college president—Tom O. Bellwood. The two ceremonies were held at the same time, probably to reduce driving and assure the widest possible attendance. Gas was rationed during the war, and gas coupons were hard to come by.
L.B. McMullen of Eastern Montana Normal School gave the commencement address—titled Education and Democracy. Musical selections included works by Bach, Tchaikovski and Mendelssohn. Student-body president Jean Oliver represented the senior class for the presentation of a new organ for the student union purchased through the sale of war bonds.
Degrees were awarded for Bachelor’s and Master’s of Education.
On August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered. That fall, young men began to return home. Over the next years, a wave of students filled colleges and universities, studying on the G.I. Bill. They typically were older, and many were married with families. At Arizona State Teachers College, returning students brought along their wives and children who filled the dorms and dining hall. The school band was revived; so were the football and basketball teams.
Today, Northern Arizona University graduates thousands of students twice a year in ceremonies in the Walkup Sky Dome. The Gammage Library building is used for administrative offices. Ashurst Hall, after several incarnations, has been restored and again is used as a concert and banquet hall.
— Photo courtesy Cline Library, Special Collections & Archives, Northern Arizona University; research by Joan Brundige-Baker.