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Students at Hey Day festivities in October 2021.

Credit: Samantha Turner

Penn's signature Hey Day hats that juniors have donned for years will no longer be made from crisp, biteable styrofoam.

Hey Day, an annual Penn tradition that dates back to 1916, celebrates the junior class entering their senior year by marching down Locust Walk clad in red shirts, holding mahogany canes, and wearing the iconic white, red, and blue hats. This year’s Hey Day celebration will take place on April 28, but the signature styrofoam hats will be replaced by plastic ones due to manufacturing issues. 

Class Board 2023 made the decision to change the material of hats due to manufacturing issues, Wharton junior and Class Board 2023 President Derek Nhieu said. Nhieu said that Penn did not have enough inventory of the original Hey Day hats, and the manufacturer of the traditional styrofoam hats stopped making them. 

After being informed of the problem by the Office of Student Affairs, the Junior Class Board was tasked with coming up with a solution for a new hat, Nhieu explained.  

“There was a lot of discussion about actually changing the material of the hat because a lot of people were having issues with the sustainability aspect of the hat,” Nhieu said.

He said that the Junior Class Board saw the hat material change as a chance to introduce a new and environmentally friendly option that did not create a mess on campus after the event, which led them to decide on a plastic material.

The Class Board 2023 spent time searching for alternatives and consulting with groups. Nhieu added that they had reached out to Penn Sustainability in an effort to find the most environmentally friendly hat option; however, their recommendation was no longer in stock as well.

The Junior Class Board considered returning to the original hay hat material, but that they knew many students wanted to keep the hats as a keepsake, Nhieu explained. Making the hats plastic allows students to keep them after they graduate and to sign them for memories.

Nhieu added that, while plastic hats are not ideal, they are the best alternative to the traditional styrofoam.

“I’m sure there are a lot of mixed reactions,” Nhieu said. “[We’re] basically redesigning a tradition that has been around for a long time.” 

College junior Sienna Robinson said it is "a little disappointing to read after missing out on many Penn traditions and then finding out we’re the first class to not have the classic hats.”

She added that not being able to bite the hats is disappointing as that has been an iconic part of the Penn tradition for years.

“I feel like most people I know kept the bitten hat as a souvenir,” Robinson said. “I think it will look odd at first because we’re so used to seeing the bitten hats.”

Nursing junior Adriana Arias said that she was “a little confused about the change” because she heard different reasons for the switch — including that the manufacturer stopped producing them and that plastic hats are better for the environment.

“I don’t think it will take away too much from the tradition,” Arias said. “I think what everyone’s looking forward to is that final walk over the bridge.”

Hey Day begins on Thursday at 10 a.m. with a picnic on high rise field. Juniors will then process to College Hall at 11:45 a.m. to be officially pronounced as seniors.