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Clarkson Traditions

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Alma Mater
Like most colleges and universities, Clarkson has a traditional song, or Alma Mater, that is heard at every major celebration of the University. The first Alma Mater was composed in 1906, in preparation for the celebration of Clarkson's first ten years. Said its composer, John McNulty '09, "Our institution is not yet old. It has therefore not many traditions nor customs to help bind the students together ... But the time is here for ... literature and ... songs that will act as a binding agent for all interests.

"I hope that others will follow in this work, so that future students will find themselves drawn into the Clarkson Spirit," said Mr. McNulty's. His song served as Clarkson's Alma Mater for over 75 years, and we think he would be pleased with its replacement, composed in 1979, and with the many other traditions that have also become part of the Clarkson spirit.

Alma Mater (1979)
Hear us, Clarkson, hail to thee.
Hear us sing thy praise.
We cherish dear the memory
of golden college days.
Thy banner, green and gold,
shall stand until eternity.
Alma Mater, strong and grand,
Clarkson, hail to thee!

Lyrics by Robert Smith '37
Music by Guy Lamson

Alumni Weekend
Being a student at Clarkson is a memorable experience, not only as preparation for a successful professional career, but in the many friendships and networks of human connection that it yields. The Alumni Association was formed in 1904, and each summer Alumni Weekend offers an opportunity for alumni to return to the campus, renew old acquaintances, and revitalize their association with Clarkson. Reunions of particular classes are held at regular intervals. It is always our hope that being an active participant in Clarkson traditions will be a lifetime commitment for all alumni.

Members of a Clarkson Fraternity talking to President Tony Collins and wife.
The annual Activites Fair, where nearly every club on campus gathers to host information tables, is one way Clarkson aids the transition of new students into the Clarkson community.

Commencement
The annual May Commencement ceremony is the largest, most colorful, and longest-standing annual tradition at Clarkson, dating back to the first Commencement in 1900, at which the first four bachelor's degrees were awarded. Held in the Cheel Campus Center Arena since 1992, the pomp and circumstance of Commencement offer a memorable celebration and formal recognition of earning a Clarkson degree, as faculty and graduating students don their regalia for an impressive academic procession. The Seniors traditionally announce their class gift to some worthy Clarkson cause, and the highlight of the day is the awarding of Bachelors', Masters', and Doctor of Philosophy degrees.

Convocation
Convocations are gatherings of students and faculty at academic institutions, usually to share new ideas and renew campus spirit. In its early days, Clarkson held convocations weekly, but discontinued them during World War I. In 1920, the students requested that they be reinstated. Eventually that custom fell away, but in 1946 students again voiced their opinion that regular assemblies of the campus community were a good idea. Since 1991, a convocation has been held at the beginning of the academic year. It is now a time for bringing together the community of scholars to explore some fundamental theme, and for the faculty to welcome students to the campus. As Stephen Covey suggests in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it is good to "begin with the end in mind."

Culture Night
Started in 1991, Culture Night is traditionally held at Clarkson in the winter, usually in February. For this celebration, international students and American students cooperate in providing ethnic foods and displays, as well as performances which showcase the various cultures represented at Clarkson. There are dances, songs, and other instrumental musical performances. The International Student Organization coordinates the event with other student organizations, and includes students from many different countries as well as our African American, Asian American, Hispanic and Native American students. The Clarkson Union Board provides the sound system and representatives of our fraternity system and other clubs on campus participate as well. Culture Night demonstrates very visibly that a University community truly celebrates its uniqueness and the excitement of its campus environment when it recognizes its own diversity of people, belief systems, and traditions. Just as the flags hanging in the Cheel Campus Center constantly remind us of the many regions of the world from which our students come, Culture Night reminds us that there are many things that we can learn from the ways in which we as human beings are different and the ways in which we are really very much alike. Culture Night is a must for everyone!

December Recognition Ceremony
While the University once had multiple commencements during the year, a December Recognition Ceremony for Students Completing All Degree Requirements in Fall Semester was established in 1998. This tradition involves a ceremony and reception for graduates and their families, along with the presentation of anticipated degree certificates. December grads are still welcome to participate in the traditional May Commencement exercises.

Amy Castronova presenting Loir Denny with the Commendable Leadership Award.
Amy Castronova presents Lori Denny with the Commendable Leadership Award.

Fall Family Weekend
Over the past century, parents and families of students have gradually come to play an increasingly significant role in the life of higher education. Held each fall, Clarkson's Family Weekend provides an opportunity for parents and other family members to visit students on campus and participate in a variety of events: shared meals, meetings with faculty and staff, theater productions, and athletic competitions. Dinner at a restaurant is a valued treat during Family Weekend. The members of the Parents Committee meet on this weekend as well.

Founder's Day: November 30
The first Founder's Day exercises were held on the 68th anniversary of the birthday of Thomas S. Clarkson, November 30, 1905. In the early years, this was primarily a time for memorializing Thomas through stories, prayers, and musical performances. While the celebration of Founder's Day has waxed and waned over the history of the University, in more recent years, it has been celebrated with brief observances and student contests involving Clarkson historical trivia.

Gilbert Stuart Portrait of George Washington
Among Clarkson's collection of historically significant objects is a portrait of George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). The artist painted portraits of the nation's first president, sometimes called "our first engineer," several times, and then painted a number of replicas. The painting in the University's collection resulted from a third sitting of Washington around 1796, and was painted for President James Madison. It is considered one of the best of the Stuart replicas. Mark Twain once said that "if Washington should rise from the dead and not resemble the Stuart portrait, he would be declared as an imposter." The portrait was presented to Clarkson by Robert L.Clarkson during National Engineers Week in 1951. It now holds an honored and protected place on the wall in the Cheel Campus Center.

Greek Week
The first Greek organizations on the Clarkson campus were founded in 1904. Their purpose was to bring more unity between the freshman and sophomore classes, whose relationship had been characterized by a fair amount of mutual hostility, and to promote harmony and good fellowship among their members. Membership in Greek chapters was traditionally associated with high standards of academic achievement and personal character. Clarkson continues to work with its fraternities and sororities to foster a positive role for them on campus. In 1998, the long-standing tradition of Greek Week was revived. During the week, Greek organizations sponsor events for the entire University community, including various "Olympic" games. There has also been a Children's Carnival with a game booth sponsored by each chapter, with proceeds donated to charity.

Holiday Hoops for Charity
Since 1995, just prior to the holiday break between semesters, the Residence Life staff has sponsored the Hoops for Charity program. The event raises money for the local Potsdam Holiday Fund that provides gifts, clothing, and food items for area families during the holiday season. Teams compete in a two-day three-on-three basketball format for the charitable cause and for bragging rights on campus. T-shirts are provided to all participants in the tournament, and the names of the winners are engraved on a plaque in the Residence Life Office.

Legendary Joe Bushey
In 1921, some letters appeared in Clarkson's student newspaper, the Integrator, referring to a student by the name of Joe Bushey. The phantom Joe has been a recurring presence on campus ever since. He was first believed to be a member of the Class of 1923. In 1933, the Integrator reported that Joe had been awarded a lifetime scholarship to Clarkson. His picture is purported to have shown up in the 1930 yearbook, and at a 1949 alumni dinner, a recorded speech by Joe was played for the audience. In 1961, Clarkson's Director of Admissions invited Joseph Bushey to become part of the entering class, although he apparently never graduated with that class. He almost made it through in 1973, when his name appeared on the official list of seniors to be voted on by the faculty and trustees for the conferring of degrees. Just before the vote, his name was discovered and removed as being ineligible. In 1995, an e-mail address for Joe appeared on the Alumni Web Page, and messages went through to him successfully. In 1998, during a gala dinner party to kick off Clarkson's $70 million capital campaign, a telegram from Joe was brought to the podium by a bike-riding delivery man. Who knows when and where Joe Bushey, or perhaps one of his grandchildren, may again make an appearance at Clarkson?

Orientation and "Holcroft Knight"
The opening days of the academic year offer the opportunity for new students to be welcomed, introduced to Clarkson

Holcroft Night fireworks.
Every year "Holcroft Night" is a warm welcome and enjoyable display of fireworks.
lore, and helped to become acclimated to campus life. It is a time of forging new friendships and building cooperative bonds for facing the academic and personal challenges ahead. It is a time for letting go and looking forward. The newest Orientation tradition is "Holcroft Knight," during which all first-year students gather on Holcroft green. Now the location of our Admission offices, Holcroft House was the third Clarkson family home, built on their Hill estate in 1821. It was "The Mansion House" of John C. Clarkson, son of one of the original purchasers of Potsdam and an older cousin of Thomas S. Clarkson, in whose memory the college was founded. "Holcroft Knight" offers new students a time for putting their voices behind some traditional Clarkson cheers and the Alma Mater, and for a true celebration of their new status as first-year students at the University.

Senior Week
Senior Week, a time for the outgoing class to enjoy their last few days as undergraduates together before leaving Clarkson, has existed since the early years of the twentieth century. Held during the week prior to Commencement, many of the functions earlier in the week are social, while the weekend brings the pre-Commencement events including receptions and dinners for families, commissioning of ROTC officers, and Baccalaureate Services.

Spirit Day
Hearkening back to Clarkson's earliest days, pep rallies, parades, and bonfires have often represented the campus send-off to teams before a big game. Usually, these events have preceded important competitions with long-time rival St. Lawrence University. In recent years, Spirit Day picnics, games, and bonfires have often preceded Clarkson - St. Lawrence hockey games, probably the North Country's most exciting annual athletic rivalry. Be sure to join in building campus spirit on Spirit Day!

University Recognition Day and Phalanx Inductions
Moving-Up Day, a spring tradition during which one class would symbolically move up to the next rank, was inaugurated at Clarkson in 1923. In 1929, a new organization was formed to recognize campus leaders by tapping them for membership at Moving-Up Day ceremonies. The organization was called Phalanx because the ancient definition of that word signified formation by ranks, and these chosen individuals ranked high in the affairs of campus. Since then, induction into that organization has become Clarkson's most significant formal recognition of campus leaders. In 1991, University Recognition Day became the official designation for the day on which academic departments offer awards to top students and Phalanx gives its commendable service and leadership awards and inducts its newest members.

World in Potsdam Diversity Festival
Clarkson has joined with SUNY Potsdam and the Village of Potsdam since 1994 for an annual celebration of the many cultural heritages that are brought together by our shared communities. On a Saturday filled with ethnic foods, dances, displays, and performances, we collectively enjoy the impressive diversity represented by "The World in Potsdam."

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  • What's Phalanx?

    It’s Clarkson's highest honor.