Wednesday, May 15, 2013

2013's Glorious Griffins: Mount Holyoke Class Traditions

To celebrate this year’s reunions, Archives & Special Collections will host Open Houses on the lower level of Dwight Hall on Friday, May 17, 8:30-5:00; Saturday and Sunday, May 18-19, 9:00-5:00; Friday, May 24, 8:30-5:00; and Saturday, May 25, 1:00-5:00.  The festivities will include an exhibition about some of the traditions which students have used to establish class identities and forge bonds with their classmates.

Congratulations to Archives & Special Collections students
 Clara Bertagnolli, Lily Hoot, Alena McNamara, Kate Potter,
and everyone else in the Class of 2013!

  • The griffin, a mythological beast with a lion’s body (winged or wingless) and the head of an eagle which symbolizes wisdom and strength;
  • The winged horse Pegasus, one of the best-known figures in Greek mythology which symbolizes wisdom, fame, poetic inspiration, and spiritual energy;
  • The sphinx, a mythological creature with a human head and the body (sometimes winged) of a lion which symbolizes wisdom, truth, abundance, and unity;
  • The lion, which, in addition to referencing the name of Mount Holyoke’s founder, symbolizes strength, power, courage, and majesty.

The most familiar of these traditions began in the 1880's, when students selected a color and flower to represent each class.  The practice of choosing an often mythological symbol began with the Class of 1905 and by 1908 students had (for unknown reasons) decided to use the following symbols with the associated colors of green, red, yellow, and blue.

In 2010, Frances Perkins students and alumnae selected the phoenix and purple as their own symbol and color.  As every Harry Potter fan knows, this magical bird perpetually sacrifices and renews itself through fire and represents transformation, rebirth, growth, expansion, and mind and spirit.

Since the 1850's, students in most classes have had also their own jewelry.  The earliest rings and pins were often decorated with class mottoes.  Beginning in the 20th century, most rings featured a stone in the color of each class.

"Parting songs" and other original compositions have been written by members of many classes and students in each class participated in an annual competitive singing contest from 1919 until the early 1940's.  The Canoe Sing tradition began in the first decade of the 20th century as the Senior Serenade.  Initially, seniors dressed in caps and gowns would carry Japanese lanterns as they moved from dorm to dorm, singing their Class Song and two or three College songs at each location.  By 1927, the location of the Serenade had moved to Lower Lake.  The workers’ anthem “Bread and Roses” was first sung by members of the Class of 1978 at the conclusion of the Laurel Parade as an expression of solidarity with all women.  Classes through the 1920's also had their own mottoes as well as yells and cheers which they shouted with great gusto during inter-class athletic competitions.

Seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshmen (called first-year students since 1989) have created many other class traditions and rituals over the years.  In the 1840's, just before graduating, seniors began planting ivy next to the Seminary Building —a custom that continued on campus until it was replaced by the senior tree planting ceremony in 1964.  Junior Show and the Laurel Parade have been part of College life since the early 20th century and the “elfing” of new students by sophomores began in the mid-1960's.  Some traditions such as the hazing of freshmen by seniors (now known as Disorientation) have changed over time while others (Senior Mountain Day?  Junior Top-Spinning??) have disappeared.

To learn more about Mount Holyoke's class traditions, please visit Archives & Special Collections during the reunions or any other time the collections are open (Monday-Friday, 9:30-12:00, 1:00-4:30)!

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