The president of Stanford, a La Grande attorney, Helen Moore, a Greek goddess, and Evensong

Eastern Oregon University’s 2016 Commencement is tomorrow, June 11.


 Congratulations graduates!

Last year around this time we wrote about the beloved Grand Staircase commencement week tradition of Evensong.   If you’re not already familiar with this lovely ceremony you can read all about it here.

Grecian Gown

1961 Evensong Queen Sandra Thompson – photo courtesy EOU Pierce Library

But how did Evensong come to be?  How was it that, at least in the early years, the Evensong Queen and Princesses dressed in Grecian style gowns?  And who came up with the idea for the Torch of Knowledge?

A 16 Jul, 1953 Observer article had all the answers…

The year the college (then Eastern Oregon Normal School) opened, Miss Helen Moore, the dean of college women, and some of her colleagues were in charge of finding a theme for a graduation “pageant”.  Somewhere along the way they asked George Cochran (one of La Grande’s attorneys, a pioneer and a son of pioneers) if he had any ideas.

Cochran looked at the Grand Staircase and it reminded him of the Greek Temples of learning.  This in turn reminded him of his own 1901 commencement at Stanford University.  In his address to the graduates that year Dr. David Starr Jordon (the first president of Stanford) had told a story from Greek mythology in which torches were lit from the eternal flame of the goddess of wisdom, Pallas Athena.  Dr. Jordan used the story as a symbol of graduates carrying the light of learning out into the world.

And so, this mythical story was re-imagined by Miss Moore and her associates and thus became the treasured spring commencement week ceremony of Evensong.

Evensong origin 1

Evensong origin 2

Evensong origin 3

From the 16 Jul, 1953 Observer


Baluster smallBaluster smallBaluster small

The Grand Staircase at Eastern Oregon University was designed by Oregon architect John Bennes and completed in 1929.  Sadly, it has deteriorated over the decades and was closed to public use in 2004.

The staircase is currently included on Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List.  In November of 2015 it was determined that the staircase was too far deteriorated for restoration to be a viable option, however efforts are underway to fund reconstruction.

We started this blog and the accompanying Facebook page to raise awareness of the Grand Staircase and its architectural significance, post photographs and information of historical interest about the staircase, and share the stories and memories of those who love the staircase as much as we do.

To see a pictorial history of the staircase please visit our About page.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *