The Laurel Parade

Image of 2015 graduates preparing for Alumnae Parade.

In 1900, graduating seniors paid homage to Mount Holyoke College by placing wreaths of laurel and forget-me-nots in front of College founder Mary Lyon's grave while they sang “Holyoke, Tried and True.” Two years later, laurel chains replaced the wreaths and a Mount Holyoke College tradition was born.

In 1932 the laurel chain ceremony was integrated into the annual alumnae parade and since then has remained the parade's highlight. This moving ritual, which takes place during commencement weekend, marks the transition from MHC student to MHC alumna. During the parade, seniors—linked by two 275-yard laurel chains—process through the ranks of returning alumnae to Mary Lyon's grave. After weaving the chain around the grave site's fence, they sing “Bread and Roses,” a poem-turned-song that was taken up by strikers demanding reasonable hours and pay at a textile mill in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912. The seniors and all the alumnae parade participants dress in white, a tradition that began as a show of solidarity with the suffragettes who wore white when campaigning for women's right to vote.

The chains are made out of mountain laurel, representing the bay laurel that symbolized honor, achievement, and glory in ancient times. Early on, the laurel was hand picked by first-year students from the local hillsides. During periods when mountain laurel became scarce, daisies or ribbon were substituted. For two years in the early 1970s, student opted to carry antiwar signs instead of the chains.

Since the 1930s, South Hadley's family-owned Carey's Flowers has assembled Mount Holyoke's laurel chains. These days, the laurel comes from farms in western Massachusetts.