Posted: May 23, 2009
Skies were grey early Saturday morning but the class of 2009 remained undaunted. The 566 graduating seniors stood four abreast holding the laurel chain, waiting for their parade to begin. In the first row--just behind the class officers--was 71-year-old Joyce Holt, one of thirty-six Frances Perkins Scholars graduating. "This comes later than expected; coming out of high school, I would have been in the class of 1958," said Holt. "But it's wonderful to be here in 2009."
Two-hundred-and-seventy-five yards down the laurel chain stood Anna Zimmerman, Kiri-Lin MacGregor, Amy Williams, and Christine Klepacki. The four had made a deliberate choice to bring up the rear. "We heard it's good to be near the back because you end up near Mary Lyon's grave during the ceremony at the end of the parade," said Zimmerman.
And somewhere in the middle of the chain stood Emily Myer, who already had directed her parents to a prime viewing spot along the parade route. A transfer student, Myer first saw seniors carrying the laurel chain last year. "I knew immediately that it was the commencement tradition that would mean the most to me,” she said. “I have been looking forward to this."
Meanwhile, around Woolley Circle, alumnae were gathering by class for their parade contingents. Like the graduating seniors, they wore white but sported their respective class colors of red, yellow, blue, and green via shawls, hats, sunglasses, and flowers. Members of the loyalty classes--alumnae who graduated in 1934 and 1939--settled into antique cars. Elizabeth Forbes Morison '39 and Nancy Sheedy Tanner '39 debated whether or not to walk the parade route; they eventually chose to ride in a 1929 Ford Model A where Tanner perched intrepidly on top of the rumble seat.
While Priscilla Rand Baker '59 waited for other members of the 50th reunion class to arrive, she recollected her own march with the laurel chain. "What made it even more exciting was that my mother, Elizabeth Clark Rand '34, was here for her twenty-fifth reunion," said Rand. Those MHC ties run even deeper for Rand: her grandmother, Frances Elizabeth May Clark graduated in 1901, and her great-grandmother Emeline Ferry May came to South Hadley in 1837, the year Mount Holyoke Female Seminary opened. "Emeline was a student of Mary Lyon's. We even have her compositions corrected by Lyon. Mount Holyoke is very special to my family."
When the Springfield Kiltie Band began to play, Jennifer Gieseking '99 took her place as marshall and the parade stepped off amid cheers. Each class passed by the reviewing stand on the steps of Skinner Hall and was greeted by President Joanne V. Creighton, Alumnae Association President Mary Graham Davis '65, Alumnae Association Executive Director Jane E. Zachary, and the officers for the class of 2010.
By the time the classes of 2004 and 2007 passed the reviewing stand, the early morning clouds had been replaced by blue sky. Then, as if on cue, sunshine emerged when the graduating seniors paused in front of Skinner. There, Saira J. Chaudary, president of the class of 2009, passed the Student Government Association gavel to Annie Scott, president of the class of 2010.
The cheers grew loudest and even steadier when the class of 2009 processed through two columns formed by all the alumnae marchers. Their enthusiastic and heartfelt applause brought smiles--and some tears--to the faces of Mount Holyoke's graduating seniors.
After winding the laurel chain around Lyon's gravesite, the seniors--as is tradition--sang "Bread and Roses," a poem-turned-song that was taken up by mill workers demanding reasonable hours and pay in 1912. Then, the assembled alumnae processed to the Richard Glenn Gettell Ampitheatre for the Alumnae Association's 137th Annual Meeting, folding in the class of 2009 along their way.
Chain of Events: The History of the Laurel Parade (May 27, 2006)