Class Day began in 1865 as a student-run celebration of seniors with festivities that started in the afternoon and stretched into the evening, including a formal dinner, award presentations, and entertainment.
Held about one month before Commencement, students usually gathered for the formal events in a Center City Philadelphia theater. Dressed in their finest outfits, students enjoyed music, the reading of the class history, and sang a farewell song.
Students wrote and performed music and comic skits that ranged from sophisticated to crude, but it was all in good fun.
In the evening, the students would hold a dinner party at a posh Center City restaurant with members of the class paying tribute to the provost, faculty, Penn, campus clubs, and fraternities.
Class Day was completely organized by students, but faculty and administration were free to attend the events.
On the inaugural Class Day, the program also included the first presentation of the awarding of a wooden spoon to the senior voted the most popular member of the class.
In 1887, Class Day evolved into one of the University’s Commencement-related events, as part of Commencement Week festivities. Two years later, students created the ritual of “moving up,” with a symbolic transferring of a cap and gown to the president of the junior class.
In later years, some of the Class Day events were held on campus, as it was in 1902, when graduating seniors (pictured) gathered on the lawns at the Quad.
From 1903-1907 the festivities were again held in Center City theaters.
Class Day returned to the Quad in 1908, and the event was combined with the traditions of Ivy Day, complete with the ivy planting and ivy stone ceremonies. That same year, Class Day was held on the day before Commencement. Dressed in caps and gowns, the senior class marched into the Triangle of the Upper Quad to hold an open air Class Day ceremony, which family and friends were also invited to attend.
In 1931, the University merged Class Day with Hey Day, the official University-sponsored junior class “move up” event to become seniors.
For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives online.