The first commencement on record at the normal school was held in 1881. The two teachers, Captain Harvey French, Principal, and William Reynolds, first Assistant, presided and conducted the exercises. The graduates read their essays, a member of the Board of Regents brought greetings, and the diplomas, sent from Charleston, were presented.
The commencement activities lasted three days and two nights, with contests, debates, orations, and musical numbers. Everyone attended the commencement, partly from curiosity, partly from interest in the students. The little village of Concord would be filled with people from all over Southern West Virginia. One wrote that "Commencement was quite a time, people came in wagons, hacks, buggies and on foot, and the village was very lively and festive". A present day resident of Athens recalls that she baked for days, preparing food for guests, and the house was so full of guests that the children had to sleep on pallets on the floor.