In the last newsletter we asked: What famous Chicagoan gave a commencement address to a Senn High School graduation class, when did he give it, and what was significant about it?
Answer: Attorney Clarence Darrow reportedly gave the commencement address to the June 1918 graduating class. He was 61 years old at the time and before the two trials that would make him nationally famous then and ever since – the Scopes Evolution “Monkey” trial in Tennessee at which his opponent was three-time Democratic nominee for President, Williams Jennings Bryan, and the Leopold and Loeb murder trial in Chicago. While there was no contemporary mention in the Chicago Tribune of his address – or even of his giving of an address, there was an account of it written down by person who was identified as one of the graduating students, Lawrence Draymar, which Irving Stone in his 1941 biography of Clarence Darrow transcribed and quoted:
Our glassy-eyed, pompous principal had us five hundred graduates thoroughly numbed and awed by the recital of our great responsibilities. Darrow patiently sat it out, playing with a watch chain and looking up at the ceiling as he sprawled in his dinky folding chair. Finally he was lavishly introduced with the usual long hot-air harangue of noble phraseology. Darrow ambled over to the big rostrum and leaned against it comfortably in that stooping way he had. He looked like a big easygoing janitor in the wrong place with all those ramrod stuffed shirts around. He looked us over, turning his head in dead silence, and finally he began to chuckle.
Look – let’s you fellows down there relax now. That was as fine a lot of bunk as I ever heard in my life, and I darn well know you youngsters didn’t believe a word of it. You’re no more fit to “go forth and serve” as the man in the moon. You’re just a bunch of ignorant kids full of the devil, and you’ve learned practically nothing to show for the four years you spent here. You can’t fool me, because I once spent four years in just such a place!’
The parents were shocked; the faculty was purple with rage, but naturally we students were ecstatic. It was the only good sense we heard in months.
Biographer Irving Stone does not indicate how it was that he came about this alleged recollection. There are several problems with the recollection: One problem is that there is no Lawrence Draymar listed in the Forum yearbook for June 1918, nor for January 1918. Nor is his name found in the Chicago Board of Education proceedings for any graduation class before 1924 (the last year he could have graduated before 1940, even assuming he graduated at age 16). There is no Lawrence Draymar found in any census – not 1940, nor any preceding it. Nor is any person named Draymar found in the 1917 Chicago City Directory. Further, while the quote claims a graduating class of five hundred students, the actual count from the Chicago Board of Education records verifies less than three hundred. Still another problem is the quote “you fellows down there.” Senn was co-ed and there were many female graduates. Would Darrow, the progressive, been so dismissive of the female graduates as to ignore them, and address only the males? Thus there is reasonable doubt as to the validity of the quote, and perhaps also of his even giving a commencement address. We know that he did not give the commencement address before the 1918 January class because the program for that graduation shows the address as being given by Reverend Lewis Perkins Cain. Unfortunately, no program has been found for the 1918 June graduation.
Source: Irving Stone, Clarence Darrow For the Defense, 1941, Doubleday & Co., New York, pp. 12 and 521
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