Alumni Parade, The,

Alumni Parade, The, held annually on the Saturday before Commencement as the climax of class reunions, originated in the 1890s but, as now conducted, is related to an earlier alumni event: beginning soon after the Civil War, alumni classes had been taking part, on Commencement Day, in an ordered procession to the place of their dinner meeting where ``an excellent and abundant meal,'' was followed by five or six alumni speeches, ``both grave and witty, serious and mirthful.''

The more lighthearted Saturday parade grew out of the baseball rivalry between Yale and Princeton. Their teams first met in 1868, and twenty years later began playing one of their several games at Princeton on the Saturday before Commencement. Alumni attendance grew, and now and then a class back for a reunion would march to the game behind a band. In 1897, stimulated by a torchlight procession of alumni at the Sesquicentennial celebration the previous fall, all the ``reuning'' classes joined in a parade to the game. Thus began the most colorful event of the annual Commencement program.

For many years, the P-rade (as it came to be known) formed in front of Nassau Hall, moved across the Campus to '79 Arch, down Prospect Avenue, through the Thompson Gateway, and around University Field, passing in review before the president's box behind first base.

At first the sole decoration worn by returning alumni was a badge with class numerals on it. Gradually classes began to distinguish themselves by using class hats, balloons, parasols, large palm leaf fans, and before long younger classes were wearing colorful costumes, carrying humorous signs, and sometimes performing comic stunts.

In 1907, the Class of 1897, dressed as Dutch boys, made an arresting sight -- and sound -- as they clattered along in their wooden shoes.

A year later, the Class of 1898 marched as a Roman Legion, with tunics, buskins, shields, and swords, wheeling at their head a reproduction of the Arch of Trajan, on which was emblazoned


In 1909, not long after Princeton had been given its lake by the Scottish-American Andrew Carnegie, the Class of 1904 appeared in an orange and black tartan highland dress, led by a bagpipe band of highlanders in bonnet, kilt, and sporran. As the stalwart drum major whirled his baton, the double-jointed drummer pummeled his drum, and the pipers piped their martial airs, the long line of '04 Highlanders presented the appearance of a Scottish regiment on parade, winning the crowd's thunderous applause.

In 1910 the Class of 1900 paraded in long gowns as suffragettes, with the former football player ``Big Bill'' Edwards, leading on horseback, as an improbable Joan of Arc.

In 1916, when interest in the preparedness movement was mounting, the Class of 1906 wore the top hat, chin whiskers, white-starred blue tailcoat and the red and white striped trousers of Uncle Sam.

At the ``Victory Commencement'' of 1919 a throng of alumni, happy to be back from the war, formed the longest and most colorful P-rade up to that time. That year Alumni Day coincided with Flag Day, and at the conclusion of the parade, a band struck up ``The Battle Hymn of the Republic,'' and five thousand alumni marched across University Field, waving their flags from right to left with each step -- -``a moving sight,'' the Alumni Weekly reported, ``which brought the 10,000 spectators to their feet.''

An even longer P-rade took place in 1946 when 7,300 alumni returned to Princeton for a ``Victory Reunion.'' The procession reached a climax on University Field with the massing of service flags showing the number in each class who had served in the war and the number who had given their lives.

In general, classes have tended to wear costumes through their fifteenth or twentieth reunions, class blazers and occasionally gay umbrellas with class numerals through their fiftieth, and thereafter, blazers or simply hatbands with class numerals.

Over the years, alumni have appeared as Mexican bullfighters, Roman gladiators, convicts, Spanish toreadors, pirates, zouaves, French artists, Apache dancers, Roman emperors, pierrots, cowboys, Anzacs, French sailors, Confederate soldiers, Indians, the French Foreign Legion, African hunters, chefs, firemen, baseball players, spacemen, and even as tigers.

Live animals have added excitement front time to time: in 1906 a troupe of trained lions, in 1923 two tigers, in 1949 three elephants who led the clowns of '44 around the field and then knelt in front of the president's box.

Bands have always been an indispensable element. Every class celebrating a major reunion (i. e. those occurring at five-year intervals) has usually had one, and occasionally one or two classes celebrating ``off-year'' reunions have had them, too. At times there have been as many as thirty bands punctuating the long procession-brass bands, bagpipers, fife and drum corps, all-girl bands -- and at the head of the column, the University Band.

Rain put an occasional damper on the P-rade, but only once -- in 1953 -- did it force a cancellation of the parade (and of the game). Some classes insisted on marching anyway, staging an impromptu parade in the R.O.T.C. armory. After the storm abated, the twenty-fifth-year Class of 1928 marched to ``Prospect,'' called out President Dodds, and, with him at their head, marched to University Field and back to the Cannon, accompanied by the University Band.

From 1961 to 1967 the Alumni P-rade proceeded to Clarke Field, rather than to University Field, where the Engineering Quadrangle was built; and in 1966 a further change was required when Yale found that it could no longer keep its team together for the post-season Princeton Commencement game. A game between the Varsity and a team of alumni provided a temporary focus for the P-rade in 1967. Since 1968 the P-rade has terminated in an Alumni Association meeting, the alumni once more marching to their Commencement gathering as their predecessors did in 1865 -- now without the abundant meal and extensive oratory to follow, but with the color, music, and fun that have, since the Golden Nineties, been essential ingredients of this unique event.

From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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