Hey Day: A Uniquely Penn Tradition

Following a tradition that reaches back to 1916, Penn juniors celebrated Hey Day 2014 on May 1, by donning red shirts, strutting along Locust Walk carrying mahogany walking canes, and biting into flat-brimmed hats.

A celebration unique to Penn, Hey Day follows the last day of classes and marks the “moving up” of juniors to the senior class. With the sun shining and a welcome light breeze blowing, this year’s event began with a class picnic, followed by the traditional triumphant procession to College Hall.

Penn President Amy Gutmann met the students, as in years past, at the steps of College Hall, where, before officially declaring the Class of 2015 seniors, she gave them a “three-part test.” The questions went like this: “Who is the founder of the University of Pennsylvania?,” “Who is your class president?,” and “True or False: The Penn Class of 2015 will be the best senior class ever.”

After the students roared out their answers, Gutmann said, “By the power vested in me by the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, I hereby proclaim you, seniors! Congratulations.”

Speeches by the senior class and junior class presidents followed, along with the requisite biting of the hats and finally the crowd erupted in cheers and song, waving their canes and singing “The Red and Blue.”

The University Archives and Records Center provides two possible explanations for the odd name of the annual event. According to an article in the 1916 The Pennsylvanian the name “Hey Day,” a day of rejoicing, was chosen by a committee formed especially for the purpose of coming up with an appropriate title for the newly established Moving-Up Day.

An alternative claim, however, is that the name is a pun suggested by Eugene H. Southall, Class of 1916 and editor-in-chief of The Pennsylvanian. Well-acquainted with the phrase, “the heyday of someone’s career,” Southall half-facetiously 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 apogee or heyday of college life and activities.”

In 1931, Class Day activities were folded into Hey Day, including the reading of the Class History, Class Prophecy, and Class Poem; the presentation of the Senior Honors Awards; and the announcement of those elected into various honorary societies.

The formality of the Hey Day of decades ago has been replaced by a more informal exuberant outdoor affair—but some traditions remain. The canes, a relic of the “Junior Cane March,” originally a fall event, were incorporated at some point after the mid-1950s and continue today. The formal robes and gowns of the past have been replaced by red T-shirts, while the traditional straw “brimmers” have since been replaced by mock straw hats.

Text by Amanda Mott
Photos by Charles Murphy and Scott Spitzer
Video by Rebecca Abboud