This might be the most patriotic graduating class in the history of the US
(Photo: Long Horn Yearbook, 1917)

By J.G. Noll

It seems like the emotional plot to an epic movie: Men on a college campus are enjoying their youth, and then war is declared. Every single senior volunteers for active duty. Graduation is cancelled as the newly minted servicemen ship out for training across the nation.

You can imagine the sweeping music, the period costumes, the swagger of young men off to change the world.

It would be a perfectly orchestrated blockbuster hit. Moviegoers would leave the theaters wondering if something like that would even be possible. . . or if it was just the clever work of a screenwriter.

But that incredible scenario really did happen.

100 years ago this month, Texas A&M cancelled their graduation ceremony as all of their seniors–about 120 of them–left to serve in WWI. The cadets volunteered to serve; a national draft of 21- to 25-year-olds was implemented in May 1917.

While none of the senior Aggies graduated in 1917, the administration distributed Honor War Certificates rather than diplomas. The certificates were meant to help document the achievements of each senior so that they could resume their studies after the war.

The Long Horn Yearbook honored the Class of 1917 this way:

In one week the Class will step forth from the walls of the College to aid in the defense of our country and will leave nothing behind but a memory and a record. Long may 1917 be remembered as the Last of the Mohicans and the Advance Guard of the great army of Progress.

According to Texas A&M, the Aggies spread out over the country–Leon Springs, Houston, and Parris Island–for basic training as soldiers, sailors, and Marines. About half of the class became officers. Four from the class paid the ultimate price; three dying in France, one passing away in a stateside training accident.

You can view the members of the Class of 1917 through Texas A&M’s digitized yearbook collection.