Then & Now: Canoe Sing
In 1902 the Mount Holyoke College senior class spontaneously held an impromptu serenade as a tribute to the sophomore class, their “Little Sisters.” The event was so fondly remembered by the lowerclasswomen that the next year’s seniors followed their example. “Senior Serenade” was officially listed in the “Programme for Commencement Week” in June 1911.
Wearing caps and gowns and carrying Japanese lanterns, the seniors marched two-by-two, starting from the newly built Pratt Hall and proceeding to the various residence halls, singing two or three songs at each. They ended at the piazza surrounding the south campus, near Upper Lake, where an audience of family, friends, and lowerclasswomen waited.
The seniors then formed a single line in preparation for a serpentine dance, which progressed to a formation of their class numerals. The ceremony concluded with the class of 1911 singing its class song—written and composed by senior Doris Melchert—as well as College favorites such as “Holyoke,” “Sister Class Song,” and “Down in Mobile.”
Today Canoe Sing takes place on Lower Lake, a tradition that started in 1940 and features singing and elaborate canoe choreography. In the days leading up to the event, seniors submit three songs they feel are representative of their time at MHC, and the Senior Class Senior Week Committee votes to compile the final list.
On the Thursday afternoon before commencement, seniors gather on Prospect Hall patio to rehearse the songs and, in some cases, learn how to paddle a canoe for the first time. Because there are so few slots in the boats, interested seniors are selected by a random drawing.
At 10:30 p.m. on Saturday evening the senior class and their guests gather at Lower Lake as the dozen canoes launch. With only moonlight and the lanterns that adorn the boats to light the way, paddlers move through changing formations, at times linking the canoes together. Seniors on shore lead the group in song. This year the class of 2014 sang “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper, “Happy” by Pharrell, and “In My Life” by The Beatles.
The ceremony concludes with the canoeists returning to shore, where they are met by family, friends, and alumnae who’ve returned to campus for Reunion.
This article appeared in the summer 2014 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.
July 14, 2014