Celebrating the Class of 2006: MHC's Laurel Chain

Monday, June 12, 2006 - 11:50
Posted: May 27, 2006

At 7:45 AM on Saturday, the summit of Mount Holyoke was invisible, draped in the fog that had descended with the night's rain. Meanwhile, around the bend at its namesake college, that fog had dissolved into a mist. Through it, a trio of alumnae wearing white walked past Pratt Hall sipping coffee. Nearby, a team of student workers lugged two heavy garlands of laurel onto the lawn of Mary Woolley Hall and began the careful work of uncoiling them. In the distance, a lone bagpiper practiced a measure of music, once and then again.

Forty-five minutes later, the mist had dissipated and a parade was taking shape. Alumnae of all ages, each dressed in white, began assembling with their classes around Abbey/Buckland Circle. Meanwhile, on the other side of Mary Woolley Hall, the senior class also was lining up four abreast. They took photos, answered cell phones, and waved to onlookers as the laurel chain was draped on the shoulders of the outer two marchers. Like the alumnae, they wore white--white skirts, shorts, sundresses, slacks, and saris. Many accented their outfits with the class color; some sported red sashes or sandals while others carried red gerbera daisies.

Hayley Beers, one of the first seniors to arrive, stood in the second row. "I've looked forward to this since I saw pictures of the laurel chain ceremony on the Mount Holyoke Website when I was a prospective student," Beers said. Next to her was Sivakami Ashley, who suspected that the gown she was wearing actually was a wedding dress. "There are even alums here from the class of 1936. This is one of the best Mount Holyoke traditions," said Ashley.

The assembled alumnae, now holding signs reading "Retired but not retiring" and "The Class of 1891 was in our graduation parade!" fondly recollected their moment with the laurel chain. As Charlotte Pugh Ellithorp '46 and Frances Unger Meade '46 helped each other put on the flashing red earrings being worn by all members of the 60th reunion class, they noted that as a war class, Mount Holyoke traditions had taken on an even greater significance. "We focused on the traditions because we couldn't do many things off campus," explained Meade.

While members of the class of 1966 tried to remember exactly what they wore when carrying the laurel chain 40 years earlier, Ruth Rotundo Whitney didn't have to think hard. "I wore what my family referred to as 'the MHC dress.' It was first worn by my mother, Barbara Bristol Rotundo, when she graduated in 1942, then by me, and then by my sister Peggy Rotundo when she graduated in 1971."

As the Quaboag Highlanders pipe band began playing, members of the classes of 1931 and 1936 took seats in vintage cars. Beverly Lerch, who graduated as a Frances Perkins Scholar in 1994, ran up to a 1936 Ford Model A to get a picture with her grandmother, Gertrude "Bobby" Walter Lerch '31. "At its 60th reunion, the class of 1931 took me in as 'class baby' and gave me the courage to apply to the FP program," said Lerch. Then, as if on cue, the first bit of sun broke through as the parade stepped off. President Joanne V. Creighton and Alumnae Association President Susan Beers Betzer '65 stood at the reviewing stand on the steps of Skinner Hall, their applause joining with that of the crowds along the route.

The loudest cheer of all came from the class of 2006 as they stepped off behind the reunion classes. The class officers carried the class's new banner, which had been presented to them a day earlier by Alumnae Association Executive Director W. Rochelle Calhoun '83 to be used at all future reunions. The officers explained that since they don't want it ever to be thrown out, they'd added a clause to the class bylaws authorizing the last living member of the class to be buried with it. "Given that my grandmother lived to be 105, I think my chances of receiving that honor are pretty good," joked Class Vice President Rachel Schaefer.

By the time the graduating class reached Mary Lyon's grave, smiles were mixed with tears. At the sound of a drum roll, the seniors passed the laurel chain over their heads so those closest to the grave could drape it on the fence. Then, as their voices came together singing "Bread and Roses," sunlight poured over them and the class of 2006 looked up to blue skies.

Related Links:

Chain of Events: The History of the Laurel Parade

MHC Archives - Laurel Chain Tradition

Photo Gallery

2006 Commencement Home Page