The unique traditions of a Wheaton graduation

Graduation is not only a big time for students, but also a chance for a school to display its culture and tradition. It is usually a big deal for colleges or universities, because it doesn’t only give a formal occasion of looking back and reflecting on the past year, but more importantly, it opens up the school and connects it to the outside world. Graduation is the perfect moment for the school to absorb more resources, funding and new thoughts.

For students, graduation is unique and each of them bears different feelings.

“It will be hard to say goodbye to the place I’ve called home for 4 years and the friends I’ve made and lived with, but I am excited for the good things in my future,” graduating senior Renee LeBaron says.

“It is a bittersweet time: on the one hand,” another senior, Nicholas Cicchinelli says. “I’m sad to be leaving all of my friends and my professors, but on the other hand, it’s exciting to have completed my degree and I feel like I’m ready to take the next steps into the ‘real world.’”

Graduation is all about traditions. “Traditions are what makes part of a college a college,” LeBaron says. Every school cherishes its own style for the graduation ceremony and Wheaton College is no exception.

A hundred faculty and 390 students are estimated to attend the graduation this year, but the ceremony will also be open to those who got their diploma last October, and anyone who finishes their credits in this spring semester.

Senior Week

The graduating class celebrated their accomplishments with a week of festivities. This senior week is from Monday, May 12, to Sunday, May 18. The students will have some final moments with their college, the school that has nourished them for four year.

“I really appreciate we have a whole week of activities before we graduate to not only celebrate our accomplishments with each other but to reminisce on what these last four years at Wheaton meant to us,” says LeBaron.

The Thesis Parade was held on Monday, May 12. It was a celebration of the accomplishment of seniors’ big thesis projects. Seniors were dressed in funny costumes, while march around the Dimple to music. It was a fun time to give hurrah that all the hard work has been done.

A White Glove Brunch was arranged for the seniors after that. This tradition goes back to 18th Century when young ladies wore white glove to the brunch and had tea. Nowadays though the name remains, no one literally shows up in white gloves anymore. Instead, the class banner, which was carried during the commencement parade, was presented during the brunch.

The senior class had their formal class photo taken on the library steps. Later they started the hoop rolling game from the library. In this game, each student tries to roll a hoop along on the ground with stick in hand all the way to the statue of Hebe without making it fall over. Whoever succeeds in doing this is the winner. According to Winnie Collins and Jan Hancock, the administrative associates in Dean of Student Office, in the old days the first one to make it there would be the first to marry. However nowadays, since men are participating in the match as well, the first successful one is assumed to be the first CEO.

Seniors planted their class tree on campus as a way to commemorate their class. Then, they got on a bus heading for the disorientation party. This year, the seniors went to one of the biggest casinos in the country, Mohegan Sun. In contrast with the freshman orientation, the disorientation activity completes their four-year college life at Wheaton.

Almost all of the seniors got very excited about the prom on Tuesday at Rosecliff, a Gilded Age mansion of Newport, Rhode Island. It is part of the Wheaton tradition that graduates get dressed up in evening gowns or tuxedos and have a formal ball in this fancy mansion. Everything is going to look glamorous there.

“I like that they keep certain traditions like Rosecliff every year, so we spend three years looking forward to that,” says LeBaron.

“Senior Week is a lot of fun, with many traditions: I’d say the one that I’m looking forward to the most is Rosecliff,” Cicchinelli says. “That’s fun because you get to dress your best and spend an evening with your classmates at the Rosecliff Manor, which is really beautiful.”

On Friday Morning, students had commencement rehearsal without music and faculty members. At rehearsal, they received gift bags containing messages of good will and congratulation cards from their underclassmen. This is part of the tradition of “kissing seniors goodbye”.

The sentimental night was in the evening. The seniors had a slideshow and give Senior Superlative. At 10 o’clock, students had a candle-lighting ceremony, just like the one when they first came to Wheaton. They lit their candles and float them in Peacock Pond. When the Chapel clock rings 14 times, they knew they have to go to the Last Chance Dance held in Balfour.


On the morning of Saturday, May 17, there will be a procession around Dimple right before the commencement. Two students will start the ceremony holding the banner, with the rest of the class holding the class flower, which is, for this year, a red rose. They will line up in alphabetical order, headed by the graduating senior class officers and the Student government Association (SGA) officers. Professors and other faculty members will also line up on both sides of the road so that the graduates can march through them.

“It’s an honor thing. It’s a sign of respect,” says Collins.

Everything is always organized in a specific order. The faculty will follow the graduates up. The board of trustees and the alumni will also follow the line, marching behind the faculty members.

“It’s quite a parade,” says Collins.

At ten o’clock, the bell of the Chapel will ring 14 times, symbolizing the year 2014. After walking past the library and chapel, the graduates will stop at the Park Hall, where their banner will be taken away, and then form two rows, standing with the sidewalk between them. All other people will walk through them in a reverse sequence of marching, and in the end, the seniors will walk through each other before getting to their seats, located on the slope of the Dimple facing the library.

The chair trustee will go on the platform while alumni and faculty will sit at the back of the group of chairs. As for the students, they will fill the seats closer to the stage from the front row in reverse alphabetical order, with the exception for the student officers. The student officers will sit last because they have to escort the whole class, but as the representatives of the class, they will be seated at the very front, which is considered as an honor.

From marching to sitting down, every step has to follow certain instruction. “We’ve done it this way forever,” Hancock says.

As always, the commencement will start with simple words of welcome and an invocation by Dean Vereene Parnell. Then Catherine Braxton will lead the Wheaton Hymn, and music will be played by the Boston Brass Ensemble. After the song, President Ronald Crutcher will give his welcome and some announcements in his last Wheaton commencement before retiring.

Next comes the conferring of honorary degrees for guests, whose achievements are recognized by Wheaton. The honorees can come from all walks of life. They usually have quite the credentials to share with the graduates.

One of the four honorees this year is Johnetta Betsch Cole, who will be giving the keynote address in commencement. She is the current director of the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., and the former president of Bennett College for women and Spelman College. All the honorary degree bearers are going to talk about their experiences, and Cole will give the longest speech.

After the speeches, Bachelor of Arts degrees are given to the senior class. All of graduates will be called to the stage area and given their diplomas. Lee Burdette Williams, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, will read out names, while Provost Linda Eisenmann presents the class.

This is a one-in-a-lifetime occasion and every graduate will want it to be perfect. Dean Williams takes efforts to avoid making pronunciation mistakes. She has a phone line set up for senior students, and starting in March they can call in and pronounce their names exactly as they want them to be pronounced in the commencement. Then, Dean Williams makes notes on her list according to more or less 400 phone calls, so she can remember how to address each name.

“She practices and practices and practices to get it ready.” Hancock says.

All of the students walk up to the platform from a ramp on one side and after they have received the diplomas, they walk down from a ramp on the other side. This is done in alphabetical order as well and when the last one finishes, every graduates has to stand up and move his or her tassels from right to left.

“That’s symbolic.” Collins explains. ”Now they’ve accomplished it. They’ve done it.”

Once this ceremony is finished, they are no longer students. They are considered as part of the alumni community. After one of the alumni gives a welcome address to the new members, everyone stands up. The Wheaton anthem will be played on and people sing along.

When the anthem ends and everyone sits down, a bagpipe band called Clan Southerland Band, will march out from the Park Hall all the way down the center aisle. When they come to the commencement venue, the platform party and faculty will firstly follow the bagpipers out. Then the faculty forms two rows again for the seniors to walk through them.

“On the way in, the senior welcome the faculty. One the way out, the faculty stands and welcomes the seniors,” Hancock explains. That is the point at which the commencement officially ends.

Alumni Reunion

Alumni Association is probably the largest group that show up at graduation. Wheaton organizes their returns on Friday, May 16. The school is making a big deal about recording the first person to step back on campus.

According to Susan Doyle, the executive director for Alumnae/I Relations, every class has their reunion once in five years. However, the school makes two-year reunions for the most recent graduates, so that they can maintain connected to the school and go through a less tough transition into their new life.

“So much in their life is changing, they are making their major moves,” Doyle says. “We want to make sure that we have their information up to date and they are connected to Wheaton.”

This year is the reunion for classes ending in four or nine. The number of returnees is hard to estimate. It can be anywhere from at least a few hundred, according to Collins.

Starting on Friday reunion is scheduled for the Alumni College. The alums will be offered mini courses, through which they can get back to school in a real sense that they literally participate in class. In the lectures, some professors will present their new research to them.

“It’s a way to update alums as to some of the fun things going on in campus,” says Doyle.

Tour guides will be assigned to them when they are being shown around campus. They will have a tree walk and a super fun ghost tour, on which ghost stories will be told in some “haunted houses”. The Acappella Concert is an optional activity for the alumni on Friday evening. In the concern, they may be invited up to the stage to sing along or perform. The young alumni usually are separated and have a ‘block party’. They will have a tent for their own and do different things, like playing video games and having a DJ-control party.

In general, there will be plenty of time for talking, being with their old classmates and being nostalgic for the old days. People will definitely have a blast on Friday night.

On Saturday, after the commencement, the Alumni Association will hold a meeting to give out awards for classes who raised the most money for Wheaton Fund and who had the highest attendance at the reunion. In the afternoon, there will be a tour in the newly-built Science Center, which opened two years ago. Like the graduating seniors, each class will assemble and take photos on the library steps.

In the evening, luminaria will be set up around the Peacock Pond and along the walkways. Alumni will also have bonfires at the fire pit. “That is beautiful to see on campus,” Doyle comments.

Alumni can sign up to join the choir for Sunday morning. They will practice, rehearse and sing in remembrance of the reunion class members who have passed away. Doyle says that this is special to a lot of people who used to be in the singing group, because they used to do the same thing every Sunday morning when they were still college students at Wheaton.

The class of 1964 will have their big 50th class reunion celebration this year. They are the guests of the college and they pay nothing for the reunion. The school has been planning with them all year for special activities during their reunion. The members of the class are asked to bring back something special or something they are proud of in their life to speak about. They have also been assigned a feminist book to read beforehand and to discuss during the reunion.

“I’ve been to every one of my class reunions. I wouldn’t miss it” Doyle says. “It’s wonderful to see each other who haven’t seen each other for a long time and get back together and start talking right where they left off, you know, the last time they spoke. It’s wonderful to talk about all those memories. There are always those conversations about the funny things that happened when you were here.”

Graduation is on school’s yearly calendar. Although such an annual event is different from year to year, for the participants change, graduation is a way for the school to carry on its tradition. For every student, graduation is an unforgettable experience, especially the commencement. “I just hope that the weather is nice, because I really want to have it in the Dimple, according to tradition.” Cicchinelli says. “It will be cool to see everyone in their caps and gowns, and to meet everyone’s relatives that come to see them cross the stage.”