Flag Rushes, Calculus Trials, Duck Dances: Student Traditions Down Through History
Some class traditions, such as the wearing of class dinks (a kind of beanie), have long since been banned or simply forgotten. Other Stevens traditions are no longer with the university but definitely made a mark in memory while here.
During the university’s early years, for example, the Calculus Cremation was an eyebrow-raising annual pageant first created by the class of 1890 to tweak the reviled course required of each of every Stevens sophomore. During the weeks leading up to the conclusion of the spring semester, proclamations would be posted throughout the campus, announcing the capture of “that arch-fiend Calculus” and a list of his many offenses against the Stevens student body.
On the appointed evening, sophomore class members would don fantastical costumes and robes and, with plenty of pomp, carry an effigy of Calculus to the athletic field, where he was placed upon a wooden pyre to stand trial for his crimes. That trial was held before a rapt audience of students, faculty and even curious townsfolk, who jeered from the grandstands as student prosecutors proved their “case.” Professors from the Department of Mathematics would come to the defense of their “numerological overlord” each year, but somehow Calculus was inevitably found guilty.
The tradition remained wildly popular until the 1950s, when the expanding size of the bonfire and ensuing parade down Washington Street phased out the tradition for public safety reasons. (A more subdued version was briefly resurrected in the 1960s.)
Outdoor games between the freshman and sophomore classes are another enduring tradition that began as far back as the late 1870s.
Early intramural competitions included cage ball, the mildly violent cane spree, tugs-of-war and the culminating event: a flag rush held at the end of each spring semester. For the rush, a ten-foot pole with a flag affixed to the top would be placed in the center of the athletic field, then guarded by a phalanx of sophomores. Freshmen massed at the edge of the field and, upon the signal, rushed their rival class, climbing atop sophomores by any means necessary in a mad scramble to try to wrest the flag away.
Nearly 150 years later, Stevens’ student traditions are a bit different (and safer). Yet their purpose remains the same.
The student body participates in intramural football, baseball, track and other interclass and club competitions out of doors. And new traditions such as the Duck Dance (taught at freshman orientation) and the pre-Convocation and post-final senior class Wittpenn Walk have also spring up, promoting school pride, galvanizing the Stevens community and providing a much-needed respite from the rigorous demands of academic life on Castle Point.