First-year fire. A “quad of fire” might sound like a part of a horrifying hellscape, but it’s just part of the University’s annual Candlelight Ceremony. Since 2008, incoming freshmen have surrounded the Eastman Quad with lit candles to learn about the University’s traditions, iconic symbols, and history. And a “fiery furnace” might sound like something from “The Burbs,” but it’s just a metaphor University Dean Paul Burgett ’68E, ’72E (MA), ’76E (PhD) has used for more than 30 years to inspire new classes of students.
The collegiate arts. Somewhere in the ethereal plane, Francis Scott Key is consoling T.T. Swinburne, Class of 1892. Like Key’s anthem for the U.S., only part of Swinburne’s original song for his alma mater is used today. The University only sings the first and third verse of “The Genesee.” In regard to the visual arts, many of the University’s painters can be found underground. Students have been painting the tunnels under the Eastman Quad since 1970. Today, most of the artwork is done to raise awareness for special events or causes.
There is a season, party, party, party. “It’s the [anything] of the school year! Let’s party!” Traditionally, this seems to be the attitude at the University. The school year kicks off with Yellowjacket Weekend. Then there’s homecoming: Meliora Weekend. Since 1934, December has been the time to celebrate boars choking on Aristotle. And more than 60 years ago, the University’s celebration for the end of classes looked a lot like the end of the movie “Grease.” Today, Dandelion Day features activities like live bands, paintball, and rock-climbing walls.
Like benefactor, like student. Joseph C. Wilson ’31 and George Eastman are the unofficial captains of the University of Rochester’s All-Time Super Engaged Rochester Volunteers Interested in Community Enrichment (SERVICE) All-Stars. Everyone knows that. It’s why every year students participate in Wilson Day and the George Eastman Day of Service—both are part of undergraduate orientation. Rooted in their respective namesake’s civic spirit, each day gives students the opportunity to engage in community improvement and outreach projects.
Burying “burying calc” and others. Like the calculus books that were ceremoniously destroyed and buried out of consuming hatred, several University traditions have been put to rest. Among these bygone customs are riding down the hill of Susan B. Anthony Halls on a lunch tray and a brutal contest—similar to capture the flag—that involved a greased pole and the use of rotten eggs and manure as weapons. And there was even a time where yelling “Eighty-fi-yi-ki-yi-zip-boom-Ro-che-ster” was totally normal.
The Green Ceiling. Parents and students alike might feel as though the cost of higher education is an endlessly increasing figure. We can’t speak for other institutions, but here, there’s a reason the cost per student has increased: our endeavor to be “ever better” has actually made us better—inside and outside the classroom. The real problem is there are too many deserving students and too few financial aid dollars. The answer is a deeper pool of endowed scholarships and fellowships.
“When I was a boy, scholarships were only $30.” That would make you about 164 years old. Endowed scholarships have existed at the University since its founding in 1850. Among the first were the New York Baptist Union scholarships, which covered three terms worth of tuition. Endowed scholarships and fellowships have the potential to reach a high level of prestige and endure for centuries.
SCHDPF. Endowed scholarships and fellowships are critical resources because of the financial assistance they provide students and the way they benefit the University. Use “SCHDPF” as a simple way to remember how they help the University: Stay Competitive, often being the difference between students coming here or going elsewhere; Honor Diversity, ensuring high-performing students from all backgrounds are able to attend; and Provide Freedom from heavy student debt. Remember SCHDPF!
The Meliora Club. There’s a movie from the 80s (“The Detention Gang?”) where a character writes this amazing “essay,” that captures the essence of a Rochester student. To borrow from that, each of our students is a scholar, an engineer, a caregiver, an artist, and a prankster. Every year since 2009, scholarship and fellowship donors have been able to see this first hand at the Celebration of Scholarships. While the annual event recognizes donors’ generosity and scholarship recipients’ accomplishments, it also provides a unique opportunity for donors and students to meet and interact with students.
Getting down to brass tacks. An endowed scholarship or fellowship can be created with a minimum gift of $50,000. There are three additional giving levels that provide partial tuition, full tuition, and full tuition with room and board (or graduate stipend). There are still more options for those looking to commit less than $50,000. And for those looking for fun, making a gift that also creates a good old-fashioned challenge could be a great way to add excitement and impact to philanthropy.
Nightmare on Library Road. Every Halloween, crows, demonic trees, and other haunted forest-décor help turn Rush Rhees Library into spook-central for the annual Scare Fair. Attendees enjoy a cappella entertainment, refreshments, and a costume contest. The Library also—ironically—evicts the likes of Jason Voorhees from the stacks’ dark corners and narrow passageways for “Stacks Stalk”—a scavenger hunt for special books that earn participants candy and tours of Rush Rhees’s tower.
Scary good. Under founder and director Josef Hanson, the University Brass Choir—comprised of 35 to 45 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends—has presented the “Spooktacular” Brass Concert since 2008. The Halloween-themed concert, held in Strong Auditorium and free to the public, features an eclectic mix of genres performed by a fully-costumed ensemble. Dramatic lighting and other special effects help create a show spooky enough to make very young children cry—seriously; don’t bring them.
Ever deader. If you see a guy who is walking around Rush Rhees Library in a tattered “vintage” sweater and overalls asking for James Conroy, that’s Pete Nicosia. He’s a ghost. Pete, a Sicilian mason’s helper, was working on the Library’s tower during its construction around 1929, when he—probably while monkeying around—slipped and fell 150 feet to his death. Conroy was Pete’s foreman. Stories have included Pete saying the fall “didn’t hurt a bit.”
No treat, just trick. When you reach an age where it becomes (mostly) socially unacceptable to go door-to-door for candy, you find other ways to fill that void. For most people, that’s costume parties. For others, it’s mischief. In the earliest hours of Halloween 1979 on the River Campus, about 20 undergraduates completely obstructed passage through the graffiti tunnel by constructing a wall by using a ton (literally) of cinderblocks and 250 pounds of Quick-Crete.
The Rochester Yellowjacket Massacre. There are conflicting reports about what exactly happened in Ithaca, NY, on October 19, 1889. One thing is certain, it was a bloodbath. There are not many people willing to talk about it, but one is left to believe that appendages could have been found strewn across Cornell University’s football field. Certainly, there had to be dismembered players on the Rochester football team for them to lose their first game against another university as badly as 124–0 (at best, 98–0). The horror…
Let’s do this forever! In 2000, the University turned 150 years old and threw itself a four-day sesquicentennial blowout. We invited Robert Duvall, Joy Behar, this guy (he was big at the time), and all University alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, and friends. There were reunion, family, and homecoming activities and fireworks. We had such a good time that we decided to do it every year (except the fireworks). Beginning in 2001, this celebration was called “Meliora Weekend.”
We’re kind of a big deal. Since SesquiFest 2000, as we referred to it in our web journal at the time, 82,148 people have come to our birthday/reunion weekend. Our best years: 2011—Attnd: +9,500, Bill Clinton (Our first president!); 2002—Attnd: +8900, Hillary Clinton (Our first first lady!) and Jon Stewart; 2012—Attnd: +6,500, Barbara Walters (Our first Barbara!).
Golden (and bluish) tickets. Meliora Weekend is always a little crazy, but in 2008, things really got out of hand. People, including Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert, were so eager to register for our party, they crashed our system. The first event sold out in 17 minutes. Last year, to give everyone a fair chance at tickets to the keynote event—and to give our servers a break—we successfully instituted a lottery system that continues to help us manage demand.
It takes an AAC. Saying that Meliora Weekend is a lot of work is like saying clamshell packaging is difficult to open. Not counting the preparation, between staff and students, running a weekend can take nearly 1,000 shifts or more than 3,300 hours. From beginning to end everyone in Advancement plays a role. If you’re not happy with that role, you might need to be nicer to Jenn Linton.
Weekend whys. According to post-Weekend surveys, the reasons people attend are mostly what you would think. Alumni come back to see their friends and classmates; students were split between watching performances from fellow classmates and family events; and parents voiced a need to make sure their students were doing more than playing quidditch. Our job is to welcome them back, ensure they have a positive experience, and maybe learn more about their connection with the University.
A Campaign for Women. When the University’s Board of Trustees voted to allow coeducation in 1898, it was with the stipulation that women must raise $100,000 ($2 million today). After raising $40,000, the board agreed to admit women if another $10,000 could be raised. A day before the deadline, and $8,000 short, Anthony quickly raised $6,000 and eventually pledged her own life insurance, guaranteeing women’s admittance into the University in the fall of 1900.
Susan B. Anthony Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies. Drawing on Anthony’s goals and ideals, the institute was founded in 1986. Led by Director Nora Rubel, the institute supports the Gender and Women’s Studies Program; supports faculty research on the intersection of race, gender, and visual culture; and is, overall, dedicated to issues important to understanding the role of women and gender throughout history and in contemporary society.
Susan B. Anthony Center. Inspired by Anthony’s vision and passion, the center was founded in 1995 to recognize women’s current and past contributions for the purpose of encouraging young women to enter nontraditional careers and strive for leadership positions. Today, led by Director Catherine Cerulli, the center is focused on serving the needs of women on campus, connecting them to community resources, and overcoming the remaining barriers to their full equality.
The Mystery of the Woman’s Suffrage Party’s Safe. While its opening didn’t exactly rival the hype of opening Al Capone’s vault, a safe linked to Susan B. Anthony was opened in June 2013 after being locked for 15 years—the combination long lost. Some speculated it might contain a suffrage flag, love letters, or even a flask. The contents were not nearly that sensational, but priceless, nonetheless.
Suffragette City. While it’s certain Rochester is not what David Bowie had in mind when he wrote Suffragette City, Susan B. Anthony spent the most politically active period of her life (1886–1906) at 17 Madison St. In 1945, the house was purchased and turned into a memorial to Anthony and the women’s rights cause. After her death in 1906, she was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery.