On the relaxed Sunday afternoon of Sept. 10, the Residential Quad buzzed with country music and students chatting on the grass for the Vassar Serenading tradition. Representatives of the various residential houses presented original lyrics to an audience who symbolically exchanged bright flowers, followed by a concert performance of the music group Roundabout Ramblers, which is mostly composed of Vassar professors.
Serenading is one of several long-standing events hosted by the Vassar College Traditions Committee. Event organizer Ashley Hoyle ’18 explained, “The basic idea of Serenading is to make connections across class years and an opportunity at the beginning of a first-year’s career to meet some seniors and some upperclassmen.” In an academic environment that can often be divided by the difficulty and specialization of courses, this event provides a space to build new and surprising links in the Vassar community.
The event has evolved over time to fit the changing needs of community-building at Vassar. As event organizer Katie Shively ’19 elaborated, “That’s what Vassar traditions are all about. Serenading originally started as an event where people from different classes would sing their class song to each other and the songs would would be passed down through the classes. It has had other iterations, but in recent iterations it has been where the freshmen write songs to serenade the seniors, and the seniors give them carnations in different colors and everybody enjoys music and food.” Reflecting on the development of Serenading, a first-year resident of Raymond House who asked to not be named remarked, “I love partaking in the Vassar traditions because they’re so historic and there’s always a neat history behind them.”
After the students’ songs, the Roundabout Ramblers played their repertoire of country and other music genres. Like Serenading, the music group has a history to tell. Associate Professor of Biology Jennifer Kennell recalled, “DB Brown, the previous Dean of Students, started the original band back in the late 70s. At that time it was called ‘The Raymond Avenue Ramblers.’ It was comprised of faculty, staff, administrators and students from Vassar for many years. [Professor of Psychology] Randy Cornelius joined in the early 80s.” She continued, “The band took a hiatus for a few years but around the time I came to Vassar, in 2008, DB and Randy were thinking about starting up the band again. It was reborn as ‘The Roundabout Ramblers,’ named after the newly constructed roundabouts on Raymond. My husband, Aaron Linder, a lab technician in Chemistry, plays the bass and [Assistant Professor of Biology] Megan Gall, joined a few years ago along with Chris Garrett.” Later this year, the group will play at Arlington Street Festival and at the Culinary Institute of America.
Matt Thomas ’18 observed, “This is definitely the best year for Serenading that I’ve seen. It’s been bad for years, so this is a good start. I like this year more than any other.”
VSA President Anish Kanoria ’18 agreed: “The attendance was good, but I do wish more seniors showed up! It was a very pleasant afternoon.”
In the past Serenading had a darker atmosphere than its modern counterpart. Hoyle explained, “This is the second year the event looks like this. For a long time, it was a water balloon fight. Only the seniors had water balloons and there was a huge culture of drinking around Serenading. And I did some work as House Team President and then as Co-Chair of Traditions Committee to identify how we could return Serenading to its original objective of creating connections across class years.”
The water balloon fight would travel to each residential house, pitting seniors against first-year students and calling into question the power dynamics associated with the event.
Hoyle continued, “We decided to change it to something that was more central in the interest of building one community together and something that was a little bit more charming. We just exchange flowers and we exchange music, and I think it’s a lot more comfortable and a lot more accessible to a lot of people. It was nice to see people this year take note of that.”
The House Team members of each residential house helped mobilize students to sing at the event. According to a student fellow of Raymond House who requested anonymity, “Our main goal is to hype up our first-years to participate in tradition. Also, most of my friends are seniors and they showed up and it was adorable.” Thinking more broadly about the event, the student fellow concluded, “I think it was nice to see the people that you don’t usually see in your house because I know that there were people who weren’t firstyears and who also weren’t seniors come out and just like hang out. People who I usually don’t get to see.”
One of the future aims for the Traditions Committee is to steer Serenading in this direction.
Shively remarked, “This year we tried to [encourage] attendance because Serenading is a lesser-known event. It’s mostly freshmen and seniors, but we would love for it to be an all-campus event like some of our larger traditions.” Looking back on this year’s event, Shively added, “I think it worked out well. I think the only push we’ll make is to encourage attendance from all class years.”
A common motif among senior students who attended the event was nostalgia for time past. Pietro Gerarci ’18 commented, “It’s crazy to think that here we are seniors. I’m excited for it, but it’s bittersweet. It’s hard to comprehend really. You have the seniors who are passing these flowers onto the freshmen and finding more about them, what they’re interested in doing, and I mean that was us three years ago. Yesterday I feel like it was the other way around, we were getting flowers from the seniors and serenading for them.”
Speaking about Vassar traditions in general, Hoyle remarked, “It makes you feel more connected to the people you go to school with and the people who’ve gone to Vassar in years past. You can always go to a reunion and chat with people about your Founder’s Day.”
Hoyle concluded, “It’s exciting to be part of so many communal memories and events. It’s really exciting to be able to know that the events that you are planning and taking part in are what people look back on their Vassar career years after.”