Spirit of Tradition: Traditions of Classes and Academic Life

An online exhibition from 1998 highlighting traditions that have shaped student life at Syracuse University.

The Burial of General Calculus

During Commencement, there was once a tradition dearly held and guarded by sophomores celebrating a rite of passage at Syracuse University. The ritual, nearly as old as the University, dates back to spring 1873. The event honored was the end of the dreaded Calculus studies, which was required of all Liberal Arts students.

General Calculus The tradition is that the family of Mathew Matics, possibly in league with 'evil powers', comes forth upon the students at Syracuse University to cause much grief and pain. When the school year comes to a close, the surviving sophomores gather to dispose of the body of Calculus, whom they have vanquished through their success in their studies. But is he really dead or will he return again in the future as he has been known to in the past?

In the course of this tradition's evolution, the family of Calculus met their demise in a variety of ways: burials on Science Hill (present-day Crouse College), cremation, air launch by balloon, pyrotechnics with fireworks, and watery graves in Oneida, Onondaga, Skaneateles, and Cazenovia Lakes. Standard was the festivities that accompanied the affair; ceremony, picnics, song, and dance.

The Statue of Diana

Statue of Diana 10-0104 The statue of "Diana" with her dog, has been a part of Syracuse University for over 65 years. Once located in the entrance to Carnegie Library, the statue is now on display on the second floor of Bird Library. The sculpture, cast in bronze, was donated in 1932 by its creator, Mrs. Anna Hyatt Huntington.

Diana represents the Huntress of Greek mythology; "replete with vitality, grace and charm." She is depicted as just having released the arrow into flight; while both she and her dog observe, with anticipation, its path through the atmosphere.

Tradition has it that if "a student rubs the dog's paw and says a brief prayer will be ensured success in any quiz or examination." And from the sheen of the repeatedly caressed paw, it would appear that this was an ardently followed custom.

Class Ivy

The tradition of ivy planting during commencement weekend was begun by Syracuse University's 1873 graduating class. Using a silver trowel that they presented to the juniors after the ceremony, representatives from the senior class prepared the ground and planted a sprig of ivy outside the Hall of Languages. Unfortunately, this original plant did not survive the following Syracuse winter; however, the tradition for seniors to plant ivy as part of their commencement ceremonies did continue well into the twentieth century.

Class Ivy 10-0073 Class of 1941 Planting - June 26, 1940

"Donald Clark, ivy orator, kneeling at left, holds the ivy while Roger Mabie, class president, wields the shovel at the traditional ivy-planting ceremony on Class Day, June 1. Supervising are Ellen Norton, left, class historian, and Nancy Taylor, class prophet."

Moving-Up Day

Unofficially, the tradition of Moving-Up day began at Syracuse University in 1876. Because seniors usually left campus early after completing their exams, juniors would move into the vacant graduates' seats during chapel services. Over the years, the University adopted this symbol of classes advancing to their next levels as part of commencement weekend activities.

Moving Up Day 10-0049 The University held its first official Moving-Up ceremony in 1893. Outgoing student organization leaders introduced their successors and presented awards to the outstanding seniors as part of the program. To complete this event, the chancellor would request that the seniors rise from their chairs. Juniors would move into these seats, sophomores would take the place of the juniors, and freshmen would move up to the sophomore's chairs.

This annual tradition continued until 1970 when student protests against the United States' involvement in Southeast Asia prevented any commencement festivities from being held. Since then Moving-Up day has been revived only once at the 1986 graduation weekend.

Freshman Beanies

Freshman Beanies 10-0079 The phrase "Tip it, Frosh" stems from one of Syracuse's oldest traditions. Early in the third decade of Syracuse University's existence, it became practice for all freshmen to wear an orange-colored soft hat signifying to all their status as first year students.

Since its introduction in 1893, the tradition underwent modifications, but the basic premise remained. Freshmen were mandated to wear their 'Beanies (or lids)' during their first semester to separate themselves from their lofty peers, the upper classes. Wearing the beanie was a well-grounded tradition, one that quickly found its way into the freshman's section of the Student Handbook: "Wear your freshman lids. It is a distinction."

Various requirements and duties were attributed to the bearers of the beanies, some of which also were listed under "Other Customs" in the handbooks. In some ways, wearing the beanies could be considered demeaning (i.e. having to tip in respect of upperclassmen upon request), but there were some positive aspects to this tradition.

Probably the most beneficial aspect was being able to identify your fellow freshmen; building camaraderie among your class. Other traits associated with the wearing of the beanie were respect for your elders, some chivalry (holding doors, etc.), and even a healthy dose of humility.

Freshman Beanies 10-0078 Like many of Syracuse University's traditions, adherence to this heritage was not taken lightly. The Goon Squad was on hand to enforce the wearing of the sacred beanie. For those transgressors who were repeatedly caught without beanies, the punishment was public humiliation at the Penn State Pep Rally. The tradition took a major turn when the freshman class began burning their beanies at the end of the year in 1964. This was the beginning of the end, for by the end of the decade, the tradition fell by the way-side. There was an attempt to resurrect the tradition in the late 1970s, but it did not catch on. With that last passing, the age of the Beanie moved on into the realm of bygone traditions.

The Goon Squad

Goon Squad 10-0063 Established in the 1940's by the Traditions Commission, the job of the Goon Squad was to help incoming freshmen adjust to college life and spread school spirit throughout campus. Wearing elaborate straw hats and Jiminy Cricket buttons, the Goons would lead cheers at football games, help freshmen move into dorms, and usher events such as the annual Goon Show. Another job of the Goons of yesteryear was to make sure freshmen adorned their beanies, indicating freshmen status. If caught at certain times without their beanies, freshmen were subject to hazing.

Goon Squad 10-0064 Today the Goon Squad has changed. They no longer lead cheers at football games or wear straw hats and buttons. Goons are not limited to sophomores anymore, giving juniors and seniors a chance to help. The main responsibilities of the Goon Squad of the nineties are simple but appreciated: to aid freshmen moving in to their new home away from home and help freshmen feel secure about college life.


Rush 09-1004 Competition between the freshmen and sophomores was the source for many of the traditions at Syracuse University. The Rushes are a great illustration of this. There were many Rushes known to this campus (Cane, Flour, Orange, Salt, and Snow - to name a few), but the most popular two were the Salt Rush and the Flour Rush. The Flour Rush, which came into existence in 1904, resembled the Salt Rush in most regards, except for the contents of the bags.

Rush 10-0041 The Salt Rush actually did not originate at Syracuse. "Salting", as it was originally called, was one of those traditions that was transplanted to Syracuse from Genesee College.The tradition began as the practice of sophomores sprinkling salt upon the freshmen's benches in the Chapel - "to take the freshness out of the first year men."

Upon arrival at Syracuse, the tradition took on an altered form. Sophomores began to throw salt at the freshmen and even to rub it into their hair.

Rush 10-0048 In 1916, the Salt Rush does not seem to have taken place and it was officially placed on hold for World War I. By the 1940s, the tradition seems to have been permanently phased out.

This tradition died out in October 1941 after a sophomore was injured in the melee.