Penn students participate in a variety of annual traditions, many of which take place during the fall semester and are aimed at welcoming first years into the Penn community.
Here's an overview of the events students can look forward to participating in this year.
Convocation is a welcome ceremony for first-year students and transfer students held on the lawn of College Hall. This year, the event will be hosted on Aug. 29 by Penn President Liz Magill and Interim Provost Beth Winkelstein, and feature musical acts.
The class photo occurs during New Student Orientation. All first-year students are invited to gather on Franklin Field, where they will arrange themselves in a pattern spelling out their class year while wearing their class t-shirts.
“The events during NSO as well as traditions throughout students’ time at Penn are a way to celebrate what makes Penn and the Penn community so special," Christa Leimbach LiVecchi, the director of Penn Traditions, Student & Young Alumni Programming wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. "Members of the Class of 2026 are students for four years, but part of the Penn community for life, and the traditions are such a vital part of the Penn experience.”
Art Museum Gala
During NSO each year, first-year students have the chance to attend this free event held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Shuttles are offered to students, which transport them to the sprawling art museum located on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Students can explore the collections of international art, eat catered snacks, and take advantage of the DJ and dance floor.
“The gala isn't something you want to skip because first it's a great way to meet people,” rising Wharton junior and 2024 Class Board vice president of finance Annabelle Noyes said. "Think of how cool it is to have a gala with your classmates as such an amazing museum.”
Students Performing Arts Night
Performing arts groups offer their own individual shows throughout the fall, as well as a joint showcase, Students Performing Arts Night, which is held in the Zellerbach Theatre inside of the Annenberg Center. This huge event features five to seven-minute performances from each of the groups, and students have the opportunity to chat with members of groups after to ask questions.
“You have to be present and take control of what you can go see," College senior Morgan Singer, SMAC’s previous Chair, said. "I do think it is really interesting to understand the different types of clubs that probably your friends will be a part of. If you don't want to be a part of one of these clubs, it's very likely that you'll meet somebody who does."
Midway through the fall semester, the night before the first ECON 001 midterm, hundreds of students gather on the Lower Quad balcony to let out a class-wide scream at midnight. Students play upbeat music and eat snacks as they release pre-test anxiety.
Noyes said that the event helps students bond, and that the memories go beyond the tangible aspects of the event. “It's a gathering place. I can say that it's not the music and the food and the details of the event that makes the event cool. It's the people that you surround yourself with, like the classmates or the friends.”
Homecoming and tree planting
Alumni flock to Penn each year to watch the homecoming football game — this year against Yale on Oct. 22. The Penn Band marches throughout campus and students and alumni gather on College Green for the annual tree planting. The first-year class can participate in a planting program — in partnership with the Morris Arboretum — with the goal of creating a permanent landmark that builds class pride during Homecoming each year.
For years, Penn students observed the tradition of downing drinks at the end of the third quarter of football games when the band played “Drink a Highball.” When Franklin Field, Penn's home stadium, banned alcohol in the 1970s, students landed on a new way to mark this long-held tradition — throwing pieces of toast onto the playing field. The school provides toast for the designated game, and some students bring their own.
U-Night is one of Penn’s newest traditions, with this year marking the event's third iteration. The event honors sophomores and marks the halfway point of students’ college careers. While the first-ever U-Night was held virtually, last year the sophomore class board organized music and catering, and students donned Mardi Gras beads and light lanterns.
Hey Day is a chance for Penn juniors to celebrate entering their senior year. The tradition, which dates back to 1916, features students donning red shirts, mahogany canes, and boater hats with Penn’s colors as they march down Locust Walk. Until a manufacturing change forced organizers to buy plastic hats in 2022, it was customary for students to take bites out of the iconic styrofoam hats.