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Ivy Day and Commencement Weekend

Ivy Day is held the day before Commencement, honoring the senior class as well as Smith alumnae. In addition to being a ceremonial event, it is also a reunion for graduated Smithies. At first, Ivy Day included all Smith alumnae classes, but as the years progressed and the volume of attendees could not be accommodated by the campus, Ivy Day was split into two weekends: The first Ivy Day and Commencement Weekend and the Second Ivy Day Weekend.

The first Ivy Day has traditionally occurred the day before Commencement and included participation by the senior class, the tenth, 25th, 50th and 65th classes. Starting May of 2010, the graduating class will instead be joined by the 25th reunion class and all young reunion classes. The general structure of the program consists of a procession, an ivy-planting ceremony, and Illumination Night. The alumnae first participated in 1906 by providing spontaneous entertainment for visitors wandering the campus before the Ivy procession1). Their participation was made official in 19092).

The second Ivy Day Weekend is less of a ceremony and has included a larger number of participants with alumnae from other class years, such as the fifth, fifteenth, 20th classes, and so on. However, beginning May 2010, the reunion classes older than the 25th reunion class will instead be part of the second Ivy Day Weekend. The separate classes arrange events to enjoy over the course of the weekend and then all the classes gather together to participate in a procession.

One of the major committees responsible organizing Ivy Day is Sophomore Push – a group of sophomore students in charge of directing events for the program.

Junior students have also been involved in Ivy Day Weekend, mostly by directing the graduating seniors in the Ivy Day procession and during the Commencement ceremony.

The Origin of Ivy Day: The first Ivy Day occurred in 1884, but did not include the procession. It can be speculated that the first Ivy Day procession took place in 1894, because pictures show the graduating class assembling at Wallace House and walking two by two to College Hall3). These first few Ivy Day programs took place outside on the College Hall porch. For fourteen years, it consisted of a welcome from the class president, an Ivy Day poem, an Ivy Day Oration, an Ivy song, and then a planting ceremony of ivy on College Hall. In 1900, the program was split into two sections: an outdoor program and an indoor program. The Outdoor program took place on the steps of Seelye hall for the class president’s welcome address, the Ivy song, and the planting ceremony. The indoor portion took place in Assembly Hall where the Ivy oration was delivered along with speeches and additional musical performances4). Once the class size had grown considerably, the indoor ceremony was moved to John M. Green auditorium to accommodate the number of participants5).

The Procession: The earliest record of the Ivy Procession is in 18946). The general structure of the procession has persisted, with the alumnae classes marching first, according to class year, and the graduating class filing in at the end. In 1898, members of the junior class took part in the program by carrying ivy garlands that would later be planted during the ivy planting ceremony.

A distinguishing characteristic of the ceremony is the dress code. Those marching in the procession wear white and usually don a sash in their class colors. This has been a part of the Ivy Day tradition since it first began in 1884. At first, seniors also wore white shoes. However, this changed in 1939 when they switched to wearing brown and white spectator shoes. In 1960, protocol changed again and seniors wore black shoes during the procession7). To this day, seniors typically wear black shoes with their white outfits. The alumnae, on the other hand, wear white shoes with their white outfits. The symbolism behind this tradition is that the graduating class, having not yet entered into “the world,” do not know that white shoes are to be worn with white dresses whereas alumnae, having lived in “the world,” understand this protocol.

Another feature of the procession is the signs that alumnae classes carry. Most signs feature humorous slogans that the classes author and feel best represent their graduation year or class personality.

In some cases, Ivy Day processions have been postponed due to inclement weather. A rain plan was devised in which the procession would instead be held on the day of Commencement. The plan was changed in 1987 and instead of postponing the procession the program would take place in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility in case of rain. There were some years where the procession did not occur at all. In 1918, a private class ceremony was held instead of the traditional Ivy Day program.

Ivy Locations: Throughout the years, the graduating classes have planted the ivy in various locations around campus. For the first fifteen years of Ivy Day celebrations, the ivy was planted on College Hall. The locations have varied, including buildings such as Seelye Hall, Neilson Library, and various houses in the Quad. Occasionally, there would be some discussion of where to plant the ivy due to space issues. It is believed that in 1946, there was merely a symbolic ivy planting because, according to a report by the Committee on Commencement Activities, there was no space for the ivy8).

Illumination Night: Illumination Night takes place the night of Ivy Day. The campus is illuminated by a thousand Japanese paper lanterns which, for that night, are the only sources of light on campus. A cappella groups perform at their designated stations as Smith alumnae, seniors, and their families roam the campus. The major event of the evening is the senior step sing, where the senior class gathers at the front of Neilson Library as members of Sophomore Push sing to them. At the end of the song, the sophomores physically push the seniors off of the steps of Neilson Library as a symbol of the graduating class entering into the “real world” the following day at commencement. The first Illumination Night occurred in 1888.

1) 1 Ivy Day newspaper article, 1906
2) 2 Smith College.com. Smith College. Web. <http://www.smith.edu/commencement/traditions.php>
3) 3 Commencement Newsletter, 1894
4) 4 Ivy Day Program, 1900
5) 5 Ivy Day Program, 1910
6) 6 Commencement Newsletter, 1894
7) 7 Ivy Day Program, 1960
8) 8 Committee of Commencement Activities report, 26 June 1946

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