Graduation Traditions at MSU

2 05 2011

The first week of May brings with it a plethora of mixed emotions and milestones. The freshman class has now officially graduated from being the ones at the bottom of the food chain, the sophomores gear up for what could be their most difficult year academically, the juniors begin to develop the famous “senioritis” disease, and well, the seniors…they are ready to move on to the next chapter in their lives (most of them that is). The senior class will look back on their 4, or 5, or 6, (goodness, I hope not 7) years and remember their time spent at MSU. The week of finals will bring frustration as students attempt to cram for their final exams yet at the same time it will bring a sense of relief at the end of the week knowing that we are done.  Seniors at MSU often find themselves feeling a greater sense of relief than most other students. Gearing up for their final week and commencement ceremony at MSU, the seniors often participate in activities during senior week such as painting the rock together, or attending a baseball game. End of the year traditions for seniors have been in existence at MSU for quite some time. Although they have changed over the decades, we still honor our seniors by organizing fun events to mark the end of their road at Michigan State. Here is a look back at some of MSU’s historical traditions that occurred for seniors or just some that marked the end of the year.

1911 marked the first year of what was perhaps the most important event to graduating seniors in the early to mid 20th century.

Students on Swings with "Senior Swing Out" Signs

Students on swings with “Senior Swing Out” Signs

“The Senior Swing Out” as it was called, marked the first time that each year’s graduating class appeared in their stately academic cap and gown. This tradition was originated by the class of 1911. The cap and gown was actually first worn by the class of 1910 however it was until 1911 that a formal Swing Out was held.  Students would line up in their graduation outfits and would walk from the Senior house, past faculty row, to the Coop (Morrill Hall), past the library, around the ruins of old College Hall, and into Sleepy Hollow (Adams Field). The class numerals were then formed from the lines of the students. As the years went on, there was a “Senior Swing Out” committee made up of members from the Senior Class Council. This tradition continued until the early 1960s.

Another fun tradition held by the senior class was the Senior Stunt Days. Every spring, the senior class would stage a series of stunt days. Goofy costumes were worn and the soon-to-be alumni would participate in “merry-making” traditions. Dances, picnics, mock track meets, weenie roasts, and many other forms of amusement all contributed to making each of these Senior Stunt days memorable to the graduating class.

The May Morning Sing was yet another tradition for the senior class, in particular the graduating females. This tradition, more of a serious one, was when the future members of the Mortar Board and the Tower Guard were “tapped.” The graduating seniors of the Mortar Board, an organization dedicated to community service, would hand down their tasseled caps to the chosen Juniors who would be the following year’s board members. At this same ceremony, the graduating Tower Guard females would hand the gold and red ribbons to members of the freshman class who would continue this tradition.  Membership in Tower Guard is founded upon four “pillars”: leadership, service, scholarship, and character.

Tower Guard, now a co-ed honors and service organization comprised of approximately 75 select students taken from the top 5% of the sophomore class, still celebrates the May Morning Sing.  Though the ceremony often takes place in April, the group upholds the tradition of gathering incoming members and their families at Beaumont Tower in the early morning for a surprise induction ceremony. At the tower and the following welcome breakfast, inductees learn about their upcoming opportunities and responsibilities in partnership with the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD). Each Tower Guard class contributes over 6,000 hours of service to the RCPD, converting textbooks to accessible formats, like Braille or electronic text, and reading tests to individuals with visual impairments and learning disabilities.

In 1919 pageant was given at the commencement ceremony. This Festival of the Maytime started due to the efforts of the girls of the class of 1919 and a number of cooperating faculty women. This was the first pageant given at M.A.C. and it as so successful and so enthusiastically received that it has been decided to adopt the pageant as a yearly tradition. One of the most memorable features of the show was the winding of the May pole. The 1920 yearbook puts the experience nicely:

“Never were the many colors of the streamers shown off to better advantage than they were against the green background of our campus.  One could almost picture that each tint represented one phase of our college life but at the end of the winding journey all were formed into a homogenous shaft of colored talents”

At the end of the evening of the pageant there was a contest to see who would be crowned the “Queen of May”.  There were eight senior girls who were thought to be a good fit for the office and a girl dressed up as “Miss Democracy” would crown the new Queen of the May.

Miss Claudice Mary Kober was crowned Queen of May in 1919

Miss Claudice Mary Kober was crowned Queen of May in 1919

Although not associated specifically with graduation or the senior class, the Water Carnival was another event that took place around the end of the school year. This event, typically held in June (school wasn’t over until June back then), involved a

visual spectacle of water floats parading down the Red Cedar River. The first “Canoe Carnival” was held in 1923 with only a few small floats traveling down the Red Cedar. “Songs of Our Times” was the theme for the first event which was sponsored by the Senior

Class. Some of the float themes were “Time Out for Tears” and “It’s Been a Long, Long Time”. After four years, the tradition of planning the event was passed onto the newly formed Water Carnival Board. Their first planned theme was “Worship of the Spartan Gods”.  The water carnival was a favorite tradition among students and happened almost every June. However, during some years of the depression as well as World War II, there was neither time nor money to plan the carnival.  Often times, if it would rain, the carnival would be postponed, for no one enjoyed sitting outside in a damp atmosphere. The water carnival tradition stopped in 1969 but was resurrected in 2005 as MSU students celebrated the University’s 150th Anniversary.

These MSU traditions marked the end of the road for the senior classes. With graduation approaching, I would like to wish our graduating seniors good luck and congrats!

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