Yale University, the second oldest member of the Ivy League, is an institution steeped in 303 years of tradition, evident in its ivy-covered buildings, the statues that loom around every corner, and the ubiquitous figure of the bulldog.
Such traditions have been attracting lots of attention recently. Boston College is endeavoring to establish its own set of traditions in time for Commencement in May — some of them modeled after those of schools like Harvard and Yale. This attempt underscores the traditions’ importance in fostering a sense of community and continuity among generations that pass through institutions of higher learning.
Though one might recall accounts of the parading of Handsome Dan at The Game every year or the story of Nathan Hale from a Yale tour guide, the University boasts many layers of tradition –within individual organizations and campus-wide — all of which serve to make the Yale experience a truly unique one.
The Whiffenpoofs, the oldest collegiate a cappella group, is a tradition in and of itself. The group has regular institutional commitments, which include Monday performances at Mory’s and post-graduation world tours, as well as some quirky practices, Whiffenpoof member Daniel Freeman ’04 said.
“The previous group chooses silly middle names for the new members. I’m Dan ‘The best things in life are Free’-man,” he said. “And the business manager is called ‘Po-po.’ No one knows why.”
Yale’s fraternities are veritable breeding grounds for tradition, as rush processes attest. But tradition is not confined to pledges and kegs. Public Relations Chair of Sigma Chi TJ Lim ’05 said the fraternity has traditions that range from annual theme parties, including a Luau and “Crime and Punishment,” to a community service project. The project, called “Derby Days” by the national Sigma Chi, requires each chapter to create a project for the Children’s Miracle Network, a charity that has had a partnership with Sigma Chi since 1992.
Another organization that embodies tradition is the Elizabethan Club, which was inaugurated at Yale in 1911 as a forum for lovers of Elizabethan literature. Among its traditions are daily afternoon teas and the opening of a vault containing Shakespeare folios during teatime every Friday. Member Lucinda Brown ’04 said she thinks the club captures the essence of the University.
“Yale is a place of academic and intellectual rigor, and the Elizabethan Club, as a place for intelligent discourse, reflects this tradition,” Brown said in an e-mail.
But there remain a great number of traditions upheld by the broader student body, from the Silliman College-run Safety Dance to the Winter Ball. Maintaining the vitality and longevity of some of these traditions, as well as creating new ones, is a mandate of the Yale College Council.
“Part of our job is providing the events that become Yale traditions,” YCC treasurer Andrew Cedar ’06 said. “[These] have become the most universal traditions, the markers of time during the year.”
The most popular of these traditions is Spring Fling, Cedar said.
“People look forward to it as a time to celebrate spring and the end of the year,” he said. “People look forward to it more than any other Yale tradition.”
YCC Secretary Lenore Estrada ’05 said the council created the Yale Student Activities Committee this year to strengthen and expand these traditions. She said she hopes the YCC-sponsored FUSION party during Harvard-Yale weekend becomes a new tradition. The council will repeat the event when The Game is next in New Haven, she said.
“We’re hoping that Harvard will throw a similar event for Yalies in Cambridge next year,” Estrada said in an e-mail.
But the YCC has not only involved itself in the preservation and creation of tradition; it has also sought to restore traditions that have failed to survive, such as bladderball, an annual school-wide game that came to an end in 1982 due to its tendency to incur property damage in the surrounding community.
In 2002, the YCC endeavored to restore this much-loved tradition.
“It sounded like a great Yale tradition,” YCC President Elliot Mogul ’05 said. “All the alums we contacted remembered it fondly.”
But the YCC’s efforts failed, as local police remembered all too well the damaging effects wrought by the giant ball; which in some ways, Mogul admitted, was a blessing.
“When bladderball stopped, that’s when Spring Fling started,” he said. “It’s more inclusive [than bladderball]. About every single Yale undergrad comes to Spring Fling, but you couldn’t have 5,000 undergrads chasing a ball around.”
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”17930″ ]