The day before, the forecast threatened thunderstorms, and contingency plans were discussed for the crowd of juniors celebrating Hey Day. But on Thursday, May 2, the Class of 2020 woke to dry skies, even sunshine, and the kind of heat that hints at summer. It was a fitting atmosphere for the 104th anniversary of Hey Day, the day that juniors become seniors, a literal entry into their future season.
The tradition has been a solid part of the University since 1916, when juniors were invited to usher in their senior year with the opportunity to honor and reflect on the “heyday” of their college experience. Some aspects of Hey Day have evolved. Since the 1950s, Hey Dayers began carrying bamboo canes in addition to their straw boaters, which were replaced with inexpensive Styrofoam boaters in the ’80s. Each Class sports a red T-shirt with a custom logo. The unwritten dress code includes jean shorts, a bare midriff here and there, and the ubiquitous accessory—the smartphone.
Before the spirited procession down Locust Walk, the students gathered on the green on the eastern side of Rodin College House. There were hot dogs and burgers, coolers of soft drinks, and a DJ. The air was punctuated with squeals as friends greeted each other with hugs, followed quickly with selfies.
Many engaged in yet another tradition: first a hug, then each student plucked the hat from the other’s head, took a bite out of the Styrofoam brim, then replaced the hat on the owner, a tiny bit airier.
When asked whether he was going to have any hat remaining at the end of Hey Day, one student said he hoped to have it for the memories, but wasn’t sure if any of it would be left. Simisola Afolayan, an economics major from Nigeria, said, “It’s a day to hang out with friends and reflect on how far we’ve come. And I’m especially excited about my hat.”
Jason Evans, a non-traditional and older student in the Class of 2020 who also works at Penn, said that he was looking forward to walking over Locust Walk Bridge. “That will feel like a big deal. We’ve all worked hard for this accomplishment. After the ceremony I have to go back to work.”
While waiting for the Penn Band to kick off the procession, students danced, ate burgers, posed for endless pictures, and photobombed more pictures. There were shaky piggy-back rides and questionable epees with their bamboo canes. Grace Ringlein, a physics major from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said that “this is the only tradition at Penn that I’ve participated in, and I love it.” For Enri Kina, a mechanical engineering major from Philadelphia, the tradition is all about the people: “The most important thing at Penn is the people you meet.”
As the first notes of the marching band crept over the thumping DJ tunes, the procession down Locust Walk began. Like a small-town parade, onlookers gathered on the sidelines to cheer and take photos. At the east end of the Locust Walk Bridge, the students roared as they passed under a balloon banner reading Class of 2020. The number of spectators on the sidelines grew the closer the procession neared College Green. Alumni and members of the Class of 2019 cheered the loudest from the VIP area of the UPenn Alumni Final Toast.
At College Green, the band continued playing as the Hey Dayers danced, climbed Claes Oldenberg’s Button Statue, the base of the Benjamin Franklin statue, and even onto Ben himself, for selfies and portraits (and more selfies).
When a unified cheer rang through the students, it was clear that Penn President Amy Gutmann had emerged from College Hall to the steps outside: “Amy! Amy! Amy!” Gutmann was not distracted from the important task at hand, but did go off script for a moment to thank the crowd by saying, “Flattery will get you everywhere.” For Penn juniors, who have worked hard for three years to get to the point where they can say the final leg of their journey is in sight, they had to work for it, just a little bit.
“Before I declare you seniors, I have to give you a test,” Gutmann said. “But it’s Reading Day!” one student lamented. Luckily the questions didn’t prove to be too challenging. “Who is the founder of this University?”
That was an easy one. Many students had been jumping off the founder’s statue only moments before.
“I’m going to give you a hint for the next question—vision. It’s appropriate for the great Class of 2020. What did Ben Franklin invent?” (The answer was bifocals.)
Gutmann concluded: “By the power vested in me, I now declare you seniors!”
A hearty cheer of pure delight rang throughout College Green. The current senior class president, Aren Raisinghani, congratulated the Class of 2020 on their special day before handing the gavel to the new senior class president, Karim El Sewedy, who cried, “2020, let’s go! Our senior year is going to be iconic.” The crowd responded with “One more year! One more year!”
Whether the Class of 2020 will indeed be iconic is yet to be determined. But as the Band played “The Red and the Blue” to bring this year’s Hey Day to a close, it seems likely that this spirited and visionary group of seniors will be.
View the entire photo album on Flickr.
Homepage photo: On College Green, the Class of 2020 gathers for the 104th annual Hey Day celebration, where they mark their transition to seniors with bamboo canes and boater hats.