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Spring Edition
Volume 96, Number 4

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Though the times and faces of rituals may change, enduring traditions like Commencement give continuity to Messiah's history, stretching nearly 100 years.
Though the times and faces of rituals may change, enduring traditions like Commencement give continuity to Messiah's history, stretching nearly 100 years.
The marking of milestones

In a campus community, rites of passage celebrated through the years become part of the college’s personality. You may ask, “What have Messiah College educators and students found worthy of honoring with rituals and celebrations?” You only have to look as far as the beginning of the academic year to find an example. As first-year students, the youngest members of the Messiah community are embarking upon an important transition—from being high school students living with parents to entering into the more independent and academically challenging college life. To commemorate the significance of this milestone for both students and parents, Messiah College holds a candlelight service at the end of students’ first day on campus, welcoming first-year students and also preparing them and their families for what is for many
a difficult and emotional goodbye.

At the other end of the college experience, students participate in another Messiah tradition—baccalaureate and Commencement. While most institutions of higher education hold similar services, Messiah College seasons its ceremonies with ingredients representative of its abiding mission “to educate men and women toward maturity of intellect, character, and Christian faith, in preparation for lives of service, leadership, and reconciliation in church and society.” In addition to the traditional diploma, graduates receive an academic hood and a hand towel embroidered with the College logo and graduation date. The towel reminds students of Christ’s service-leadership. It also recalls symbols of the Love Feast, which was part of earlier Messiah Commencement ceremonies.

Campus pranks—a few less traditional traditions

Not all Messiah milestones are spiritually rooted—some are simply fun! Ask many Messiah College alumni to name a ritual or tradition from their college days, and they are likely to recall “creeking.” For the uninitiated, “creeking” involves kidnapping a newly engaged student, usually a young man, hauling him to the shores of the chilly Yellow Breeches, and gingerly heaving him into the frigid waters. (This tradition is famous for being conducted in the bitter cold of January or February.) The young man then emerges, with teeth chattering, as a fully initiated engaged man—or so tradition has it.

In Messiah’s earlier years, you might think students were far too serious to engage in pranks, but that was not the case. The Old Main bell, that once chimed the beginning of classes and chapel, bore the brunt of much of their pranking fervor in the 1940s. Students would climb onto the roof and surreptitiously whisk the bell away to some clandestine place. One time, students simply removed the clapper from the bell and then buried it in a coal reservoir, where it remained hidden for nearly a year. Martha Long ’48, professor emerita of English, said of these innocuous pranks, “We created our own fun.” Her colleague and friend Esther Ebersole ’41 describes students’ pranks in those days: “They were good, clean pranks,” she says. “And when revival meetings came around, we confessed.”

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Volkswagen Beetle was often involved in some amusing campus spectacles. Students showed a penchant for relocating Beetles to unusual venues such as atop the stairs of the Alumni Auditorium (located where Eisenhower Campus Center now stands), or like many of their contemporaries, holding contests to see how many students they could cram into a Beetle and still make it roll down the street. Rumor has it that one Beetle was even disassembled only to be rebuilt inside the halls of Old Main.

In more recent years, the Messiah College men’s soccer team has inspired a celebratory tradition: an annual good-spirited Christmastime tradition. “One of the funniest traditions from my era was the annual Boxer Run,” says Jason Campbell ’92. Right before the holidays, the soccer team throws a holiday party, culminating in the annual boxer shorts run. Team members, complement their boxer shorts with woolen hats and gloves and jog from residence hall to residence hall in their outrageous ensembles, singing Christmas carols—a tradition that continues to this day.

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