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The Juniors are officially proclaimed seniors Friday on College Green, but not without a few last words from the graduating class. Credit: Jake Werlin

In 1940, Hey Day nearly died.

Student apathy was threatening to abort the tradition, inaugurated in 1916 as a “Moving-Up Day” to honor the advancement of Penn juniors to their next year. The occasion was later baptized “Hey Day” to give it a unique Penn signature. In a fashion similarly characteristic of Penn, 1940s seniors filled out that year’s Hey Day improvement questionnaire with joking answers. The Office on Student Affairs voted to abolish the celebration, and it was only narrowly saved in May 1940 by a student petition.

Leap ahead to 2014, and the tradition is hardly feeble — photos from that spring show an ocean of exuberant juniors trooping messily down Locust Walk, dressed in flaming red T-shirts and fake straw hats.

Indeed, Hey Day has evolved and reconstituted itself in tandem with Penn, reflecting each of its generations.

Since its founding, the custom has witnessed a world war and the University’s 1976 co-ed integration. It has been jeopardized twice, first by the reluctant seniors of 1940 and then by a perhaps overenthusiastic group of students in 1990 — they poured beer on then-President Sheldon Hackney and carried him out of College Hall on their shoulders, dropping him on the steps. It has absorbed a number of different Penn traditions while merging others.

On this year, the 100th time Hey Day will be celebrated, it’s worth taking a look back at the tradition’s colorful journey to its present incarnation.


The cheerful parade-and-picnic arrangement currently constituting Hey Day has unexpected beginnings. According to Penn archivist Mark Lloyd, the celebration was born from a Penn tradition called the Bowl Fight.

A yearly ritual since the Civil War, the Bowl Fight was a rambunctious mass wrestling match between Penn’s freshman and sophomore classes. The sophomores would provide a bowl inscribed with their graduation year, and the freshmen nominated a so-called “bowl man.”

The freshman class’ objective was to break the bowl; the sophomore class’ was to put the bowl man into the bowl. In 1916, freshman William Lifson was killed in the fight, leading to the abandonment of the controversial custom. “Hey Day,” Lloyd explained, “was to take the place of the Bowl Fight.”

In 1916, therefore, the inaugural Hey Day was held, a somewhat tamer occasion involving an enormous congregation of all the undergraduates and the distribution of four senior honors awards known as the Spoon, Bowl, Cane and Spade awards. Then-President Edgar Fahs Smith gave a short speech, which was followed by athletic events including a senior-junior track meet and soccer match.

Bouts of wrestling, boxing and tug-of-war matches at Franklin Field punctuated the evening, as well as the Sophomore Cremation, another tradition in which sophomores burned effigies of their most detested professors. Freshmen provided a finishing twist by throwing their black caps on the smoldering residues.

The parade component that is Hey Day’s signature today was added in 1938, causing The Daily Pennsylvanian to declare with satisfaction that Hey Day was “the most interesting class ceremony because it does not pertain to boring speeches.” All four years participated in a spirited march to the Junior Balcony in the Upper Quad, with the president of each class holding a class flag aloft.

A second trademark of the celebration fell into place when the so-called Junior Cane March, discontinued in 1959, was revived and added to the Hey Day program in 1965. Junior men dressed in jackets, ties and skimmers marched with cane in hand from McClelland Hall to College Hall before the official ceremonies began.

According to 1966 College graduate Cary Schwartz, however, Hey Day was still far from its current configuration at the time. To start with, Schwartz explained, campus geography in the ‘60s did not accommodate a grand march. “Locust [Walk] didn’t exist at that point,” he said. “The street was a pedestrian walkway to 34th Street — there were cars parked, and people drove from 37th to 40th.”

Moreover, Schwartz said, national events that year cast a foreboding shadow over the campus. “It was the brink of a tumultuous period,” he said of the beginning of the Vietnam draft. “You could sense it because all of the members of our class either went to grad school or were subject to the draft. Nearly everybody was taking physicals and seeking deferrals.”

Schwartz associates his own Hey Day mainly with its ceremonial components — initiation into the men’s honor societies, Sphinx and Friars, as well as distribution of the men’s awards.

The real end-of-year student celebration happened, he explained, at the so-called Skimmer Weekend, when undergraduates would go down to the side of the Schuykill River to watch crew team races.

Penn students’ timeless resistance to official supervision was on full display at these events. “There was no campus police at that point and the Philadelphia police were not amenable to students having a good time,” Schwartz said. “At that point, excess drinking and partying was sometimes met with hostility.”

It was in the ‘70s that the straw hats took on their cheaper styrofoam form. They began receiving the traditional “bites” to the brim in the ‘80s, when the bright red t-shirt was introduced into the Hey Day getup.

The history of female students’ involvement in Hey Day is equally complex. It was in the ‘80s as well that Penn’s undergraduate women, still in a single-sex college of their own, were permitted for the first time to celebrate Hey Day alongside the male student body.

Back in 1926, Penn’s then all-male student body refused to allow their counterparts in the College of Women to partake in the Hey Day festivities alongside them, so the women — as they had done with many other student institutions from which they were barred, including The Daily Pennsylvanian and the activities planning committee — created their own equivalent.

The first women’s Hey Day was celebrated that year. A quartet of honors awards were meant to correspond to the awards given to the men, named after Penn pioneers Althea K. Hottel, Gaylord P. Harnwell, David R. Goddard and R. Jean Brownlee. It would be another 40 years after that before Penn women were allowed to participate in Hey Day with male students.

College of Women 1969 graduate Mary Cianfrani Miller remembers when the men’s and women’s Hey Day ceremony components were first held jointly in 1968. Treasurer of her class in her senior year and alumni president for the Class of 1969, Cianfrani said that integration was already in the air that year, though still a ways off — the College of Women wasn’t integrated into the University properly until 1976.

“We didn’t march with the men,” she said. “We were invited to Irvine Auditorium for the ceremony.”


Fast-forward to 2015, and junior class president Jesus Perez has plans to leave his class’ own mark on the tradition. This year’s celebration on April 30 is billed as the 100th Hey Day, with all the trappings of a proper anniversary in the works.

“It’s so crazy that the past three years have gone by so fast. Freshman year, I didn’t know what Hey Day was, and now, I’m picking up my shirt tomorrow,” College junior Dan Kurland said.

Perez has made a number of changes he hopes will further refresh and strengthen the tradition. The intention, of course, is to “stay true to a 100-year-old tradition,” he said. “We’re going to have a picnic and a huge parade down Locust,” he enthused, and “decorate, line the trees down Locust Walk. It’s going to be beautiful.”

Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush, however, intends to keep the peace as meticulously as in previous years. Students are known to get fairly reckless on Hey Day, she said.

“People will enjoy libations, but they must do it safely,” she said. “I believe this Hey Day is a milestone, 100 years. It’s even more important that it be a really successful, safe event for the legacy of the senior class and the junior class.”

Police security, undercover officers, and the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement are likely to join the event, she affirmed.

Perez has made participation in the festivities cheaper and more accessible than ever before. Each junior’s “all-inclusive bundle” was subsidized, reducing it from $35 to $20, a 43 percent drop. Sales were also conducted online, making acquiring a bundle far more convenient.

The result has been a higher number of bundles sold than ever before — 2100 so far, as compared to the approximately 1600 of previous years.

This was accomplished through “phenomenal” sales of the signature junior class sweater, whose bright red “P” has since saturated campus.

“$35 is kind of hefty,” Perez said of the traditional fee. Students in the past have often had to seek financial help to cover the cost.

“In previous years the number of complaints that we heard were just overwhelming,” Perez said. “We virtually had no one [this time] reach out saying they had difficulty. That’s what I’m happiest about.”

Perez emphasized that the quality of the event would not be diminished at all. Costs have been strategically cut by diversifying the food options at the picnic while reducing the net volume of wasted food.

The cane forming an essential part of the junior-class uniform will be reintroduced in its cheaper bamboo version, a throwback, Perez said, to the 80’s and 90’s.

Finally, a still-in-the-works “after-party” will be introduced, Perez continued, in which restaurants around campus will provide special discounts to juniors. Smokes and Copacabana are two restaurants currently being courted.

“We want everyone to continue hanging out with their friends since it is a very special day,” he said. “All of Penn should be celebrating.”

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