Rituals remembered during graduation

Story by Margo Rodewald

John Richards, assistant professor of history, has been a member of King Arthur’s Court since he came to Baker University as a student in 1978.

He always has been and always will be.

Just as Professor of Biology Darcy Russell will always be a member of Columbian Commonwealth. Or how the students in the class of 2011 will forever be a part of the House of Hanover.

Each class that comes and goes from Baker University every year has a special class identity, and as the graduates of 2011 take their final walk across campus May 22, the tradition of class identity will continue living on.

Richards said in the late 1880s, a group of Baker students came to campus wanting to create a sense of identity among the members of their class. So, the House of Hanover class was created. The next year came Senatus Romanus, then King Arthur’s Court and lastly, Columbian Commonwealth. Each of these classes has its own class colors and songs, and also a gate representing their class, except for House of Hanover.

When the first House of Hanover class graduated four years later, the incoming freshmen took on that class identity.

However, at the turn of the century, when the greek system began making its way onto campuses across the country, the idea of class identity became less significant. Because of this, former Baker University President Dan Lambert thought people were missing out on Baker history and wanted them to get back in touch with the heritage of the university. About a dozen years ago, he created a traditions committee, consisting of staff and faculty that are Baker alumni, such as Richards and Russell.

This committee decided to resurrect class identity by creating a traditions walk, where the freshmen would walk through campus, starting at their class gate. These students would then take that same walk on the day they graduate four years later. Lambert also added the playing of the bagpipes for these two special walks.

Even though many students may not necessarily be aware of the history of these classes, Richards will be always be prepared for a King Arthur’s Court comeback.

“Baker students are very involved people, and so it’s difficult to ask for something new, something different, because they’re already so committed to things that they enjoy, which is fine,” he said. “But if there’s ever a moment in which (University Minister) Ira DeSpain and I can get together and actually cook up something, we’ll bring back the royal ball for the King Arthur’s Court.”

Another unusual aspect of the graduates’ commencement march around campus is the mace the graduates follow into Collins Center.

Walt Bailey, emeritus professor of art, constructed this mace from pieces of buildings on campus, such as Parmenter Hall, which has been used for commencements since the late 1970s.

“There was some symbolic things I was trying to put together,” Bailey said.

While the class Russell belonged to as an undergraduate won’t take its commencement walk until next spring, she still loves the commencement traditions she helped put back in place more than a decade ago.

 ”The traditions walk and the names for the classes, and the idea of the mace, all of those things just seemed to resonate with people and translated really well into the modern history of Baker,” Russell said. “It may not be quite as important or meaningful, but I like it, because it connects us to the past, and it connects us to the future, and I think that’s a special thing.”