Yankee Stadium was transformed from a baseball field into a football stadium for the Rivalry 150 game. The game took place four years ago on November 22, 2014. (Kelsey Alpaio/ B&W Photo)

The Big 150: Four years of tradition culminate in 2018 commencement

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Just before the turn of the 20th century, Lehigh men toted a scarecrow down the streets of South Bethlehem.

The scarecrow, constructed to look like the author of their calculus textbook, was burned at the conclusion of the march.

“O Calculus, o calculus, thy awful reign is done… The torch to thee has been applied; our pleasures have begun,” reads “Calculus Cremation of the class of 1897,” printed in the 1897 The Epitome yearbook.

Lehigh’s history is full of tradition, and though members of the class of 2018 didn’t participate in Lehigh’s antiquated calculus scarecrow tradition, they were on campus for a series of 150th year celebrations and significant transformation.

The seniors’ first Lehigh-Lafayette experience was also the Rivalry’s 150th celebration, which was played at Yankee Stadium.

Lehigh lost, but the game reinforced old traditions and spawned new ones.

Offensive lineman Tim O’Hara, ’18, who went to Yankee Stadium as a backup but did not compete in the game, said the football team maintained its usual athletic traditions leading up to the Rivalry. He said though the team is somewhat isolated from the rest of the student population during Lehigh-Lafayette week, it carries out traditions of its own.

He said it’s tradition for the defensive players to wear offensive players’ jerseys and vise versa during the practice on the Friday before the game. Additionally, the team holds a luncheon before the rivalry game for senior players and members of the 50-Game Club, a group of fans who have attended 50 or more Lehigh-Lafayette games in their lives.

“We have such big school pride on our campus, for the most part,” O’Hara said. “Once you leave Lehigh, I think a lot of people will realize how lucky they were to have the opportunity to participate in something like that.”

The Marching 97 experimented with a new performance format for the 150th rivalry game. The group played in a combined field show with the Lafayette band, cheerleaders and dancers from both schools.

Daniel Beadle, ’18, said the band also maintained its usual pregame traditions. For example, Marching 97 members pack themselves into a bathroom and perform “Throne Room” by John Williams from Star Wars Episode Four before performances.

In addition to game traditions, the band executes Eco-Flame by playing fight songs in classrooms on the Friday before the annual rivalry game. Beadle said the year of the 150th rivalry, the members did Eco-Flame on Monday instead of Friday because the senior members performed on The Today Show with members of the Lafayette band that Friday.

The 150th Rivalry also marked the start of a new tradition for the band. Members performed the fight song in different houses around the hill from 10:30 p.m. until midnight for “Midnight Flame.”

The following year, Lehigh celebrated its 150th year of classes and the university came together for a year’s worth of sesquicentennial celebrations.

Archives and Special Collections Librarian Ilhan Citak was a member of the committee the university formed three years in advance to plan 150th celebrations.

“We tried to keep bookends,” he said. “That 2015 Founder’s Day was the start and the 2016 commencement was the end of the celebration.”

He said the celebration spanned both 2015 and 2016 because the campus community recognizes its founding in 1865 at the first meeting of the Board of Trustees, but students actually arrived to campus and began classes in Fall 1866.

Even after 150 years of history, there is room for tradition revision.

Beadle, who served as the Marching 97’s historian as a sophomore and is the co-editor in chief of The Epitome, sees tradition as a choice rather than an obligation.

“There are some events that get repeated, but that’s because we like those events and we enjoy them,” he said. “I think tradition for tradition’s sake is pretty worthless. I think we need to be constantly reevaluating what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

Student Senate president Matt Rothberg, ’18, said for the 150th commencement Senate started a new tradition, rather than only celebrating old traditions.

The Commencement Committee selected Erin Garrity, ’18, as the speaker through an audition and voting process.

“I think what makes Lehigh so special is the fact that you have tradition such engraved in the culture here,” he said, “but you also have students that are willing to change when they see a better way to do something.”

Rothberg said traditions are still well integrated into Lehigh’s culture, and that will be visible throughout commencement.

The ceremony will be special for professor of accounting Kenneth Sinclair, who has read student names at commencement throughout his 46 years at Lehigh.

Sinclair, who retires with the class of 2018 this year, taught the commencement speaker, Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert, ’86.

Sinclair said although the university has seen significant changes since he arrived in 1972, there are some aspects of Lehigh that have not change at all.

“I think the quality of the students has been exactly the same, or pretty much the same, since when I came here,” he said. “I find the Lehigh kids have been involved with things outside of the classroom.”

Significant transitions during the class of 2018’s four years on campus contrast this consistency.

Two different presidents — interim president Kevin Clayton and incumbent president John Simon — lead the university over the class’ four years on campus from to fall 2014 to spring 2018.

Rothberg also said the class of 2018 is in a transformative year.

“We’re at the end of what I would call ‘old Lehigh,’” he said, “because ‘new Lehigh’ is going to start next year in the sense that we have all of these construction projects (for Path to Prominence).”

Citak agreed that as members of the class of 2018 look back on their time on campus, they will find they experienced more policy and structural changes than most other Lehigh classes. 

Like the other 149 classes to graduate from the university, the senior class’ experience is adorned by tradition.

O’Hara said there is a saying on the football team that “tradition never graduates.”

“(Tradition is) something that links everyone that went to Lehigh,” he said. “I think a lot of people won’t recognize it right away because you won’t realize until it’s gone how cool it was to participate in something like the Rivalry.”

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