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APSU receives original copy of graduation speech given in 1889

Last Friday, more than 200 students at Austin Peay State University graduated with degrees during Summer Commencement.

Although there was no graduation speaker, degree candidates might find direction from these words spoken to graduates of Southwestern Presbyterian University in June 1889:

Last Friday, more than 200 students at Austin Peay State University graduated with degrees during Summer Commencement.

Although there was no graduation speaker, degree candidates might find direction from these words spoken to graduates of Southwestern Presbyterian University in June 1889:

“You are to occupy no mediocre position in society; your scholarly attainments, together with your good moral character, will command for you a position far above the average,” James Murdock Sykes told his fellow senior classmates of a school that preceded APSU from 1875-1925 on the same site where APSU now stands.

The original copy of Sykes’ 1889 valedictory address was donated to APSU’s archives collection. His great-granddaughter, Janice Loewen, of Broken Arrow, Okla., recently discovered the speech in some old family papers and notified Gina Garber, archivist at APSU.

“We were honored to receive the original copy,” Garber said. “The heritage of APSU goes back long before APSU became what it is today, and to have this in our collection helps to make this University’s history that much more complete.”

After graduating from Southwestern Presbyterian in June 1889, Sykes married Anna Karlee McGinnis. According to Loewen, the young couple lived in Clarksville before preparing to leave for China as missionaries.

But that trip never occurred. In August 1891, Sykes traveled by train to North Carolina to preach a farewell sermon before leaving for China. On his way home, he was killed in a train wreck.

Sykes wrote his speech in long cursive handwriting that was characteristic of the penmanship during that era. And although the paper is fraying, much of the words can be discerned clearly.

Garber said the document would be preserved.