A Glimpse of Michigan State University: History, Future and the University Mace
Michigan State University is pleased to include the University mace in commencement ceremonies. The introduction of the mace, at the Founders’ Day celebration and inauguration of MSU’s twentieth president in February 2005, served to commemorate the sesquicentennial celebration. The University, founded in 1855, celebrated its 150th birthday. The mace is designed by University Relations and was produced by Physical Plant staff.
Historically, the mace is a symbol of authority dating from medieval times when knights carried them during processions with their kings. As the tradition grew, the mace became a ceremonial symbol of peaceful leadership, and maces were embellished with jewels and metals. Today, a university’s mace is carried before the president or chancellor and platform-party dignitaries during commencement and inaugural and other academic ceremonial processions.
The Michigan State University mace, 42 inches in length, includes important institutional symbols in its finial, crown, and shaft. The finial is the circular University seal, which includes an image of “Old College Hall.”
This oak-carved seal derives from an 1869 State Board of Agriculture (now, Board of Trustees) authorization for a woodcut to be used as the frontispiece of the college academic catalog. College Hall, built in 1856, was the first instructional building erected in the United States for the teaching of scientific agriculture. When it collapsed in 1918, John Beaumont (class of 1882) provided funds to erect Beaumont Tower in 1928 at the same location. The tower stands as a symbol of Michigan State's beginnings as the first land-grant college dedicated to teaching “agriculture and the mechanic arts” with a “liberal and practical curriculum.”
The mace’s crown is trimmed with a maple samara and acorn pattern carved from walnut, a pattern drawn from the “Michigan State College” limestone relief at the Abbot Road campus entrance that also adorns markers at other campus entrances. An image of Beaumont Tower lies in the crown’s oak center. Below the crown is the cylindrical shaft, whose alternating, horizontal oak and walnut bands descend to a brass tip. Its oak is purported to be “Beaumont oak,” from one of the original saplings surrounding College Hall. Its walnut is from a tree removed to clear land for the Wharton Center for Performing Arts of 1982.
In its soaring vertically, Beaumont Tower continues to inspire the MSU community and is an appropriate symbol for the MSU mace. As President Robert S. Shaw (1928-41) stated at the tower’s dedication, it has served as “a unifying factor” to remind us, even through our individual activities, of the overall mission of Michigan State University: to inspire us by “appealing to many of the better things in us” and to encourage us to “live up to higher standards, scholastically, socially, morally, and spiritually in all of our affairs.”