“By the power vested in me by the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, I now proclaim you seniors!”
This tradition started in 1916 to mark the time when juniors “move up” the class rank to seniors, following the last day of classes for the academic year.
An exuberant outdoor affair has replaced the formality of Hey Day from decades gone by. But some traditions remain. Students strut with canes, a throwback to the Junior Cane March that was incorporated sometime after the mid-1950s. Juniors wear red T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Hey Day” and colorful images, a new design each year. The formal robes and gowns of the old days are gone, but the students don faux-straw hats, a nod to traditional straw “skimmers” of the past.
The day kicked off with a class picnic at High Rise Field, followed by a spirited procession across campus on Locust Walk. When Gutmann emerged from College Hall to greet the jubilant Hey Day participants, they went wild.
They knew what their school’s president was there to do.
Bound by tradition, she gave them a short three-question test before making her pronouncement.
“First question,” she asked, smiling at the assemblage. “Who founded the University of Pennsylvania?”
“Benjamin Franklin!” the students shouted in unison.
“You nailed it, that was the easy one,” Gutmann said, playfully trying to quiet them for the next question. “In honor of this momentous, historic Hey Day, can you spell Centennial?”
Expectedly, the loud response was a bit garbled. The students got a pass on that question.
The excitement peaked with the president straining to shout over the din: “True or False: The Class of 2017 will be the best class ever.”
“Y-e-e-e-a-h!” Raucous applause, fist bumps, and high-fives ensued. The worked-up crowd raised their canes in the air, whooping and hollering like they just didn’t care.
According to a 1916 article in The Pennsylvanian, a naming committee selected “Hey Day” to mark the day of rejoicing. “Hey Day” may also refer to “the heyday of one’s career.” The Class of 1916’s Eugene H. Southall, who served as The Pennsylvanian’s editor-in-chief, jokingly suggested that “Straw Hat Day be known henceforth as Heyday and that the then scattered events of importance be concentrated in one day, which would represent a sort of … heyday of college life and activities.”
Those words still ring true today. Back on College Green, Hey Day-er Steven Meisler said, “It’s a very big day for juniors who become seniors. Junior year is one of the hardest years. Senior year, you’re looking for a job. You have more flexibility with your classes. Finishing junior year is such a great feeling.”
Members of the Class of 2016 did gather near the Hey Day revelry for a celebration of their own. The Final Toast, first celebrated on April 24, 2009, is a Penn Traditions event, a Development and Alumni Relations student engagement and philanthropy program that celebrates the senior class and symbolically elevates them to alumni status. That event, held on College Green at the same time as Hey Day, featured food trucks, a champagne toast led by the Senior Class Board, and entertainment.