College marks 100 years of spring pageantry

Students, parents, families and the Grove City College community will gather Friday, April 29, through Sunday, May 1, to mark Family Weekend and the 100th anniversary of the College’s annual Spring Pageant.

Family Weekend celebrates the cumulative academic, service, musical, athletic and social achievements of students throughout the academic school year and honors the parents and families who support and encourage students along the way. Highlights include the annual Recognition Convocation, when senior awards and major scholarships are announced, and the Spring Pageant, an elaborate ceremony that includes a procession, crowning of the Spring Queen and King and a dance show in their honor.

The Spring Pageant has been an annual event at Grove City College since 1916, when it was introduced as the May Pageant and coincided with May Day, a centuries-old holiday that celebrated the arrival of spring on May 1 and often involved dancing around a decorated May Pole. Such rituals were common on college campuses in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Students chose their first May Queen in 1905, but it wasn’t until 1916 that an official, annual and extensive ceremony was instituted around crowning a queen. In 1920, the festivities were supplemented by a pageant of elaborate dances in the queen’s honor. Initially sponsored by the women’s physical education classes, the early dances coordinated with a theme and were acted out in pantomime and sometimes extravagant costumes. The dance show remains a centerpiece of the celebration.

In the late 1950s, the College folded its annual Parents Weekend into the festivities and the day’s activities were expanded to include a Recognition Convocation to highlight students’ academic and leadership achievements and a Greek Sing – now an All-Campus Sing – to provide a friendly musical competition for student groups. Parents Weekend became Family Weekend in 2015.

The queen’s court includes student attendants and flower girls and pages, who are often the children of faculty. It was expanded in 2003 to include an official consort. Spring Kings had been informally chosen, mostly as a comical figure, since the 1970s. James Boazzo ’03 became the first sanctioned Spring King and the role has been filled ever since by a vote of the student body.

“The Spring Pageant is in many ways a throwback to an earlier age,” Hilary (Lewis ’09) Walczak, college archivist and resident historian, said. “But it’s also a recognition that history and tradition matter at Grove City College. It is part of what makes the College such a unique institution and generations of students have played some role in the pageant.”

In fact, the College’s first May Queen, Lula (Caven ) Heckathorne, class of 1916, saw her daughter Helen (Heckathorne) Anderson become campus royalty as the 1940 May Queen.

Past queens and the long-standing tradition of the Spring Pageant will be honored with a weekend luncheon and a historical display in the Pew Memorial Room in Pew Fine Arts Center on campus. The display is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

College marks 100 years of spring pageantry

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