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Hey Day 2011 Procession and Picnic Credit: Muyi Li , Muyi Li

Dandy straw hats and canes may normally be reserved for old-fashioned barbershop quartets, but this morning they will see a moment of fame.

Wednesday morning, the hats and canes will come out in the thousands to form a procession across campus from Rodin Field to College Hall, marking Penn’s 96th annual Hey Day.

What began as a formal ceremony in 1916 has developed over the years into a somewhat tongue-in-cheek celebration complete with fake straw hats and canes. Though today’s celebration is a far cry from the original Hey Day, which mostly included speeches and recognitions, the purpose has endured the years: to mark the “moving up” of the junior and senior classes. When the march comes to a close, the two classes will have symbolically stepped into their future shoes — juniors as reigning seniors on campus and seniors as proud graduates.

Throughout the years, the ceremony has moved from Irvine Auditorium to Locust Walk, fake straw hats and canes have replaced graduation caps and gowns, and the volume level has significantly increased. Yet tradition remains the heart of the event.

“While it has evolved, I think the greatness of Hey Day is the fact that it is a unique Penn tradition,” President Amy Gutmann said.

Wharton junior and Junior Class Board President Jonathan Youshaei echoed this sentiment, noting that Hey Day “has always been viewed as one of the most historic traditions at one of the most historic universities in the world.”

More recent “traditions,” however, have raised concern about the celebration. Despite the dapper hats and canes, in the past 10 years Hey Day has adopted questionable practices. Instances of seniors hazing and throwing food and condiments at juniors have both threatened the traditional image of Hey Day and proven hazardous to some students. By 2006, the administration was considering doing away with Hey Day all together.

However, Youshaei points out the progress made in the past few years to combat this problem.

“We’re really thankful that previous classes have done such a great job of bringing about a cleaner Hey Day so that our class is in a really fortunate position,” he said.

As part of the attempt to reign in Hey Day, all juniors and seniors who wish to participate in the day’s festivities must sign the Hey Day pledge, swearing off any hazing or throwing objects at other students.

Despite mixed reactions to the recent Hey Day makeover, the pledge has been gaining ground since it was introduced in 2007. Only 550 students signed the first year, but numbers rose to more than 3,000 in 2010 and 2,800 in 2011. This year’s pledge has 1,900 signatures as of Monday, which Youshaei attributes to its effectiveness as “an active process that engages the student body.”

In addition to the pledge, new additions to Hey Day in the past few years include increased law enforcement and the student medical assistance team HeySAFE. Another new feature is the Final Toast — a party held on the Class of 1972 Terrace near Sweeten Alumni House, which is aimed at occupying seniors and encourages them to toast the juniors passing down Locust Walk, rather than throwing things at them.

With or without the flying condiments, there’s no denying that the strongest tradition of Hey Day is one of unity.

According to Youshaei, the “phenomenon of throwing food” has only been around for a few years, compared to Hey Day’s longer history. “More than anything, if you think back to what the tradition has been, it has always been about coming together as one, seeing familiar faces and friends and celebrating three years of hard work,” he said.

Amid the festive yelling and music escorting the junior class down Locust Walk, Hey Day will culminate in a powerful moment in front of the University’s president, a moment that Gutmann herself relishes.

“My favorite part is standing at the top of the steps on College Hall looking at the sea of red T-shirts all very peaceably but rowdily assembled with their canes and straw hats.”

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