The Professor's Commencement

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The Professor's Commencement is a short story by Willa Cather. It was first published in New England Magazine in June 1902[1]

Plot introduction[edit]

A Pittsburgh high school teacher spends his last day at work before retiring.

Plot summary[edit]

Early in the morning, the Professor wakes up and reads; his sister tells him she wishes he had been more ambitious with his life. On his way to the high school where he teaches, he is unnerved by the grimness and ugliness of industrialisation. Similarly, when he asks one of the students to read aloud, he is annoyed at the noise from the nearby factory that mars the reading. He then proceeds to pick up his stuff and join his colleagues for a retirement party. However, he bungles up the speech he gives there; his sister says it doesn't matter.


  • Emerson, the professor. He went to Harvard and worked at a high school for thirty years.
  • Miss Agatha Graves, Emerson's widowed sister.
  • Mr Fairbrother, a friend of Agatha's.
  • Dr Maitland, a colleague of Emerson's.

Allusions to other works[edit]

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

It has been suggested that the story was spurred by Cather's own experience as a high school teacher in Pittsburgh in 1901.[2]

It has been noted that the professor is more feminine, whilst his sister is more masculine.[3]

Moreover, it has been argued that the story follows in the wake of the "pedagogic eros of the Greeks", with Emerson's affection for his "pupil with the gentle eyes and manner of a girl".[4]


  1. ^ Willa Cather's Collected Short Fiction, University of Nebraska Press; Rev Ed edition, 1 Nov 1970, page 291
  2. ^ James Leslie Woodress, Willa Cather - A Literary Life, University of Nebraska Press, 1989, page 152
  3. ^ Johnathan Goldberg, 'Strange Brothers', Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Novel Gazing: Queer Readings in Fiction, Duke University Press, 1997, page 468
  4. ^ John P. Anders, Willa Cather's Sexual Aesthetics and the Male Homosexual Literary Tradition, University of Nebraska Press, 1999, pages 98-99

External links[edit]