Unique Traditions Mark Mount Holyoke's Commencement Weekend

Tuesday, May 12, 1998 - 12:00
Mount Holyoke College, one of the oldest liberal arts colleges for women in the United States, will again celebrate this year's commencement with a number of unique traditions­including a parade with ties to the Women's Suffrage Movement­which have been established over the College's 161 year history.

The ceremonies surrounding the Mount Holyoke College Commencement begin Saturday, May 23 with the Laurel Parade which dates back to 1900. At 9 am members of the Class of 1998 will march to the grave of the school's founder, Mary Lyon, carrying a chain of laurel. Although the laurel was replaced by daisies due to a shortage of the native plant in 1923, and by peace signs in 1970, this year's parade will bear the traditional laurel.

Ties to the Women's Suffrage Movement

The students wear white for the parade to commemorate the standard dress of early twentieth century suffragettes who wore white while campaigning for the right to vote. Once assembled around the grave site, students will sing James Oppenheim's "Bread and Roses." The song is about the suffering of women and refers to historic Lawrence textile mills strike of 1912 in which thousands of textile workers fought for reasonable hours and pay. Both the white dress and the song lyrics symbolize Mount Holyoke's close association with efforts to advance women's rights. The first stanza of the anthem is: "As we go marching, marching in the beauty of the day, A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray, Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses, For the people hear us singing `Bread and Roses! Bread and Roses!'"

Canoe Sing

Baccalaureate will be held in Abbey Memorial Chapel at 9 pm and at 10:30 the same evening students will participate in the tradition of the "Canoe Sing," which was started in 1911. Twelve canoes, illuminated by lanterns, will carry seniors on Upper Lake as they and other seniors along the banks sing songs in celebration of commencement.

On Sunday, May 24 the commencement ceremony will be held at the Richard Glenn Gettell Amphitheater at 10:30 am. Johnnetta Cole, a prominent voice in higher education, will deliver the Commencement address.