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Spring Edition
Volume 96, Number 4


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As a longstanding tradition, senior class trips have given students the opportunity to cherish friendships as they prepare to graduate. Many early classes explored points of historical interest, such as the Gettysburg battlefields (as the students pictured above did circa 1920), during their class trips.
As a longstanding tradition, senior class trips have given students the opportunity to cherish friendships as they prepare to graduate. Many early classes explored points of historical interest, such as the Gettysburg battlefields (as the students pictured above did circa 1920), during their class trips.
The traditions that unite us
Our rituals and traditions not only connect us, but they also define our identity and reveal the heart and soul of Messiah College

By Rebecca Ebersole Kasparek '96

The students’ exhilaration grew as the early spring air whipped through their hair. The decibel of their jubilant laughter increased, rivaling only the loud sputtering of the Model T engines, as the group of Messiah Academy students neared their final destination: the historic landmark of Devil’s Den, one of the most famous battlefields of the Civil War, located in Gettysburg, Pa. They were gearing up for a day filled with lively conversation, exploration, learning, and friendship-building. Class trips, like this one, have become a significant unifying experience in Messiah College’s history—a tradition that reflects the College’s core emphasis on community.

Imbued with transcendent meaning, traditions reveal the most important hopes, dreams, and values of a group of people. Take birthdays, for example: How a culture marks age communicates something about its core values and beliefs. In the United States, where youth is valued, parents often throw lavish parties for even their very youngest offspring. On the other hand, says Abraham Hwang, assistant professor of human development and family science, Asian cultures, which tend to value the wisdom of age over youth, reserve elaborate birthday celebrations for grandparents.

Although such events and customs may vary greatly from one people group to another, one thing is certain: “Rituals and traditions help people identify who they are,” says Hwang. “They are a way to celebrate and remember events that happened in the past. Traditions help us to communicate within a community that ‘this is how we celebrate a specific event. It’s a privilege to be part of this community.’” Traditions are the building blocks, the shared experiences great and small, that connect one person to another and one generation to the next.

Like families, colleges also have their unique rituals and traditions that convey important truths about who they are and what they value. Messiah College’s rituals and traditions characterize it as an institution that is rooted in its spiritual heritage, committed to the nurturing of community, and replete with celebrations, rites of passage, and even the occasional mischievous prank. And, like most colleges, Messiah’s traditions are dynamic practices, often changing quite naturally through the years as the demographic profile and size of the student population, as well as societal contexts, develop and grow. Taken together, however, they tell a singular, enduring story that reveals the very heart and soul of the College.

“College traditions develop emotional attachment, create positive memories, build loyalty, and foster a common sense of identity and shared experience for people who come to a college from disparate backgrounds,” explains Raeann Hamon, chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences and distinguished professor of family science and gerontology, who teaches about rituals in her course Marital Relationships.

But, you may ask, what are the defining traditions of Messiah College? Some may feel there is a historical lack of pageantry on campus or even a total absence of traditions. But in order to appreciate Messiah College’s wealth of traditions, you simply need an enlarged understanding of what traditions entail.

“The College may not be rich in tradition as tradition is typically thought of,” grants E. Morris Sider, professor emeritus of history and English literature, and College historian. “But do we think of tradition in the right way? Traditions are repeated actions that have some kind of higher meaning and bring continuity to history.” Traditions are not only things we do repeatedly, but also, and perhaps more importantly, things we believe consistently.

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