We have many traditions at Lawrence University that have carried on through the years. As we prepare to begin a new academic year, let’s celebrate 13 of them.
Allow me to be your tour guide as a new Fall Term arrives.
A quick aside: Many student organizations on campus have their own beloved traditions that are worth exploring. We aren’t going to get into all of those here. Rather, these are 13 annual campus-wide staples that are part of the Lawrentian experience. Some began well over a century ago and some were established more recently, but all are now part of what makes Lawrence so special.
The safety protocols in place to restrict the spread of COVID-19 will alter or postpone some of these traditions this year. But all are expected to carry on, even if they have to take a brief hiatus.
The President welcomes new students
During Welcome Week (now called New Student Orientation), before returning students move into the residence halls, the University president personally welcomes the incoming class to Lawrence in an event at Memorial Chapel, shaking each new student’s hand. This ceremony is a way to symbolize you joining the Lawrence community, similar to how seniors at commencement shake the president’s hand again to celebrate graduation. As a freshman, this ceremony made me feel like there was a clear beginning, a sign of my transition into college, where I would soon experience and learn more things than I could have ever imagined.
LU Zoo Days
Organized by our student events organization SOUP during Spring Term when the weather is starting to warm up, Lawrentians from all over campus congregate on Ormsby Green to play games, listen to music, and enjoy an afternoon of fun in the sun. The best part about Zoo Days is that all of the money raised by student clubs and organizations goes toward nonprofit causes. Favorite things to do at Zoo Days include getting soaked by the “dunk tank,” having a hot dog at the barbecue, and making sand art.
Winter Carnival is a spark of warm joy in the cold of Winter Term here at Lawrence. Activities for the carnival vary year to year, from ice sculpting to building gingerbread houses to playing grocery BINGO. One of the most exciting events of the year comes at the end of Winter Carnival, when President’s Ball is held. It’s a night of dancing to a live jazz band and eating chocolate fondue. President’s Ball takes the cake because all students and faculty get dressed to the nines. It’s always exciting to see students get out of their winter clothes and study sweatpants and into their best formal wear. It’s the best night of Winter Term.
Lawrentians look forward to Memorial Day weekend. Why? Because LUaroo, the much-anticipated, weekend-long mini music festival on the quad, is the highlight of all the annual events at Lawrence. Coming to enjoy artists from around the Midwest — and even bands from our own Conservatory of Music — students lay out on the quad or dance with friends from morning until night all weekend long. It’s a great stress-breaker right before Spring Term finals. LUaroo is by far my favorite event of the year because the whole campus comes together. One year there was a taco truck that came to campus, and Chicago-based artists Ric Wilson and Kweku Collins were spectacular as they headlined the festival. Great memories.
Lawrence’s international students come together each year to put on a show of cultural expressions. Performed in Stansbury Theatre, the spectacle includes original and traditional dance choreography, musical offerings, and fashion. The Cabaret is different every year, with a changing theme to guide the “plot” of the show. This truly is a must-see event every year. My favorite thing about Cabaret is seeing friends and classmates show off amazing talents that I never knew they had.
This showcase of on-campus performance talent, ranging from music to dance to spoken-word, has become a tradition over the past half dozen years, a conclusion to the annual People of Color Empowerment Week. Two years ago, the Excellence Ball was added at the front end of the week, providing bookends to a week of films, art, and speakers on issues of equity, opportunity, and inclusion.
The 2-ton granite boulder next to Main Hall is back in its rightful place after having gone missing for about 20 years. The Rock was brought to campus 124 years ago by the Class of 1895 after students found it on a geology trip in New London, Wisconsin. It made its debut next to Main Hall a short time later. The Rock has been painted countless times for all kinds of causes. It’s been the subject of pranks and fraternity feuds, where it has been guarded and dragged across campus, and, yes, stolen. But mostly painted. We are excited to see the different ways students will paint it in the days, weeks, and years to come.
More like Ormsby Ice Rink during the winter. This classic nod to winter is a hot spot for fun on Ormsby Green during January and February. From skating and broomball to frolicking with friends, students come to the “lake” to get a break from studying during the dark days of Winter Term. I personally enjoy seeing my fellow Lawrentians participate in games on Ormsby Lake, some just trying to run or walk across the ice without falling.
Red, yellow, green, and purple: the class colors originate from a Milwaukee-Downer College tradition. Class colors at Milwaukee-Downer were given to each class to provide them a sense of unity, a tradition Lawrence would eventually embrace. The first colors at Lawrence were assigned in 1988, 24 years after the 1964 merger. It is cherished to this day. Each new class inherits the color of the newly graduated class, presented during Welcome Week in Memorial Chapel. Every new first-year class holds the flag in the class photo at the beginning of the year. My class color is purple, and at the beginning of my freshman year each student was given a purple T-shirt decorated with our graduation year.
Weekends at Björklunden
Going to Björklunden for a weekend during a rigorous term of studying is a breath of fresh air all Lawrentians enjoy. Located in Door County, on the shoreline of Lake Michigan, Björklunden is a Swedish-inspired lodge long popular among alumni and students. Whether it’s classes, clubs, organizations, or residence halls making the trip, it’s going to be both a learning and relaxing experience. Visiting “Björk,” as students call it, is always an honor because no other college I have heard of has a lodge on a 425-acre estate that students are free to go to on the weekends. When I have gone to Björk, I usually study by the fire, or go for walks by the lake, even in the cold of winter. It’s a treasured tradition.
The Honor Code
On each paper or project a Lawrentian submits, you can see “IHRTLUHC” adorning the cover, which stands for “I hereby reaffirm the Lawrence University Honor Code.” Upon their arrival to campus, each student commits themselves to the Honor Code: “No Lawrence student will unfairly advance their own academic performance or in any way limit or impede the academic pursuits of other students of the Lawrence community.” This code is what binds Lawrentians together academically and prompts social responsibility in all aspects of life. At the beginning of freshman year, every student is required to sign the Honor Code, which ties them to the Lawrence community through a fundamental social promise that shows they not only take their own development seriously but the development of their peers as well.
The Viking Room
Founded in 1969 as a bar, the Viking Room (fondly referred to as the VR) is one of the campus’ eclectic, prime hang-out spots for students ages 21+. Located in the basement of Memorial Hall, the VR is managed, tended, and stocked by students who are looking for a fun service experience on campus. Although it first became a bar in 1969, the VR served as a popular lounge on campus for many years prior to that. It has carved out a rich history—literally. Just look for yourself! Climb into the booths or sit at the wooden tables and you can see the surfaces are covered in scratched signatures and carvings from students throughout Lawrence’s history.
The Great Midwest Trivia Contest
Established in 1966, this tradition is fully student run, but teams from all around the world participate annually. Broadcast online from Lawrence’s WLFM radio station in the Music-Drama Center, the Great Midwest Trivia Contest is a weekend-long event that is not for the weak of heart. Running around the clock and overseen by a team of dedicated trivia masters, it’s an annual frenzy of bizarre and off-the-beaten-path trivia. It remains a great connector with Lawrence alumni who return to the game year after year. Sleep is optional.