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Freshmen Beanies No More: New AU Traditions Revive Nostalgia, Stir Pride

Parade past College Of History (Hurst Hall) to the McKinley Building Cornerstone-laying ceremony, 1902.  Source: American University Archives

Parade past College Of History (Hurst Hall) to the McKinley Building Cornerstone-laying ceremony, 1902. Source: American University Archives

AU traditions have come a long way.

From a shift in the colors that invoke university pride to the wearing of freshman beanies, the AU experience, rich in ceremony and symbolism, has seen a variety of changes.  These days, “as far as ‘traditional’ traditions go, we’re a little short,” says Tara Lang, director of Alumni Programs. But this was not always the case.

AU logos today brandish red, white, and blue, but before they fully embraced their patriotic ascription, the Eagles used to win in blue and orange.  In the 1960s, this adaptive spirit led AU to be a trendsetter, but such malleability sometimes made it easy to forget the school’s long history.

Hoping to reclaim a bit of the nostalgia that those traditions stir in students and alumni alike, the new convocation ceremony planned for the incoming students of the Class of 2013 aims to write a new chapter in AU history that will forge ahead while not forgetting the lessons of  its past.

TRADITIONS THEN

In many ways, AU’s early traditions possessed the challenge and good humor of fraternity pledging -- but without the choice of opting in. From 1927 to 1932, the Gosling Court, presided over by elected upperclassman, enforced the rules and created a sense of tradition and pride.

Freshman beanies, perhaps the most infamous of AU’s early traditions, are a familiar sight to those who’ve stopped at the photos outside the bookstore.  In the years between the two World Wars, new students adhered to a variety of rules outlined in the student handbook, from the mundane — girls wearing green socks — to the trying—wearing large cardboard name tags around their necks.

 

TRADITIONS IN THE MAKING

These days, green socks and beanies have gone the way of the dining hall dress code.  Many students arrive to TDR in their pajamas, and few fondly recall a ceremonious entry to AU.  But new traditions may help broker links between generations of alumni, and Tom Minar, vice president of Development and Alumni Relations, has made it his goal to create traditions in the interest of enlivening campus culture.

On August 21, a new convocation ceremony will begin with a breakfast on the quad for new students.  From there, students will be led to Massachusetts Avenue by bagpipers around the recently-opened expansion of the Kogod School of Business, passing through  the Glover Gate before the parade concludes at Bender Arena, where the hallways will be lined with faculty and staff greeting the incoming class.

“It was Tom's idea to infuse opening convocation with some new traditions,” Lang says, “Starting with a freshman class march through Glover Gates into Bender Arena.  Going through Glover Gates, the main entrance to campus, symbolically marks [the students’] official arrival at American University.”

Bender Arena, too, proves a symbolic locale.  In just a few years, the new students’ campus experience will come full circle at their commencement, which is also held in the arena.

The goal of the ceremony is to add to students’ sense of AU pride.

Lang agrees. “I absolutely think that the more meaningful campus traditions AU has, the more alumni will feel that fond connection back to the university and to campus.”