Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

The Commencement Stand-In

The Capitol Courier Newsletter/tiles/non-collection/5/5-16-Page_Audio_newspaper_2002_025_001-001.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives, Gift of Jim Oliver
About this object
This edition of The Capitol Courier, the newspaper for and by students at the Capitol Page School, features a photograph of the graduates of 1954.
Around this time of year, students across the country don a cap and gown to participate in a common event—graduation. In 1954, only two months after a shooting on the House Floor, the House hosted the Capitol Page School’s commencement exercises. Although this graduation resembled its counterparts across the country, the ceremony included a noteworthy stand-in speaker.

The House recorded the proceedings on four lacquer discs. This four-disc set is the only recording of a Capitol Page School commencement in the Collection of the House of Representatives. The discs have recently been digitized, and were listened to for the first time since they entered the collection. You can learn more about the ceremony and listen to clips below.

Herbert Brownell Jr., the Attorney General of the United States, was scheduled to deliver remarks. This in itself was not unusual. As a consequence of their close proximity to the federal government, graduates of the Capitol Page School heard commencement addresses from prominent political figures.

Listen to Principal Ruth H. McRae’s welcome:

But a twist of fate familiar to any traveler threw the proceedings into temporary disarray. Just after the U.S. Navy Orchestra played the processional and the Senate Chaplain gave his invocation, Principal Ruth H. McRae announced, “We are a little worried about our speaker of the evening because he missed his plane.” But living in a city of public speakers had distinct benefits in that moment. A graduating Page at the time, Paul Kanjorski, later recalled that “we drafted someone in the audience to speak until he got there.” The graduates looked up to see none other than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren standing at the lectern.

Listen to Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren step in:

Chief Justice Warren proved that he was a dutiful understudy, but added, “I’m very happy to say a few words to these boys provided someone promises me that just as soon as the Attorney General gets here, they let me know.” Attorney General Brownell Jr., having caught the next flight to DC, was surprised to find this unexpected speaker. At the beginning of his address he said, “I’ve been to many meetings, and invited to make many speeches, but I’ve never had a stand in like that before.”

Listen to Attorney General Herbert Brownell Jr. apologize for being late:

Sources: “Dorsey Joseph (Joe) Bartlett Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives 12 July 2006; “Page School Graduation Ceremony Record,” transcripts of speeches delivered at Cannon House Office Building, Washington, DC, June 14, 1954; History, Art & Archives, United States House of Representatives, History of the House Page Program.