When they graduate from Penn next year, students in the Class of 2019 will remember April 26 as the heyday of their college lives. On Hey Day, an annual rite of passage for juniors at Penn, they took up the mantle from the Class of 2018 and moved up the class ranks to become seniors.
Smoke from grills curled into the partly sunny sky above High Rise Field in the morning as hundreds of juniors danced to popular tunes played by a DJ at a class picnic on the western edge of campus. Students wore matching red T-shirts with “Hey Day” written on the front and an image of an old-timey straw hat and the date, April 26, 2018, on the back. Each Hey-Dayer also wore a faux-straw skimmer hat made of Styrofoam and carried a thin wooden cane to strut down Locust Walk.
Hey Day is steeped in tradition.
It started more than a century ago following the last day of classes in the spring to mark the time when juniors moved up to become seniors. Canes were incorporated into the festivities during the Junior Cane March sometime after the mid-1950s.
Eugene H. Southall of the Class of 1916, who served as The Pennsylvanian’s editor-in-chief, suggested that what was then called “‘Straw Hat Day’ be known henceforth as Heyday and that the then scattered events of importance [for rising seniors] be concentrated in one day, which would represent a sort of … heyday of college life and activities.”
Fast forward to today.
At noon, the Hey Day celebrants strolled in a procession to College Hall, led by the Penn Band. Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, vice provost for university life, welcomed them and introduced Penn President Amy Gutmann, who took the podium to the crowd’s delight.
Bound by tradition, before she could pronounce them as seniors, she had to give the students a short three-question oral test. It is usually a no brainer. But this time, Gutmann threw them a curveball.
“Who was the founder of the University of Pennsylvania?” was the first question.
“Benjamin Franklin!” the students shouted.
That was easy. The next question was not.
“Every day of your Penn lives, you have walked Locust Walk,” Gutmann began. “The question is ... how long in miles is Locust Walk?”
The responses were loud and varied. Most were wrong. However, a group of male students near the front of the crowd, answered correctly: one half mile.
The third question was a true-or-false about the greatest class ever. And of course, students answered correctly. A chant arose from the crowd: “Nineteen! Nineteen! Nineteen!”
And then, the moment the students waited years for arrived.
Gutmann proclaimed, “By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you seniors.”
Class of 2018 President Makayla Reynolds, from Stuart, Fl., invited her class to toast the newly minted seniors. The Final Toast, a relatively new tradition, was first celebrated in 2009. Initiated by Development and Alumni Relations, it celebrates the elevation of graduating seniors to alumni status.
This year, there was an afternoon party in a gated area between Sweeten Alumni Center and the “Split Button” statue on College Green. Graduating seniors were feted with catered delicacies and beverages. There were two food trucks and live music from Philadelphia singer/songwriter Kenn Kweder.
At the College Hall ceremony, Reynolds passed the Class of 2018 gavel to the Class of 2019 President Aren Raisinghani.
Afterwards Reynolds said, “I’m excited to end my time at Penn on a strong note with Final Toast, Senior Week, and Graduation weekend with the rest of the class.”
Raisinghani, from Palo Alto, Calif., expressed his pleasure to spend the day with beautiful people. He turned to Gutmann and made a request: “Please do me the honor of biting my hat.”
With a smile, Gutmann complied.
After all, it’s another time-honored Penn tradition.