The Vassar Daisy Chain: a link to centuries of history

Courtesy of Marisa Petticord ‘21.

In terms of Vassar traditions, the Daisy Chain has had quite an impressive run—the event has been an inseparable part of commencement culture ever since 1894, pausing only once for World War I. But what is the Daisy Chain, and who are the Daisies? 

Historically, Vassar sophomores would attempt to sabotage the annual senior class tree planting ceremony by stealing the tree before or after it was planted. As a formal apology, they would in turn participate in honoring the seniors during graduation. Fifteen sophomores, dressed uniformly in white, would be chosen by the senior class to escort the graduates to and from the ceremony. Together, the members carry an intricately-woven chain of daisies, handpicked from the surrounding Hudson Valley. 

Like many traditions, the Daisy Chain ceremony has evolved with the times. Namely, members of the Daisies were once exclusively women chosen on the basis of conventional feminine beauty. Over time, Vassar’s gradual gender inclusivity has allowed non-binary and male students to be integrated into the ceremony. “The Daisy Chain was strictly women for over 100 years, but this is now a dead tradition,” said Senior Co-Coordinator Gabby Costner ’21. “We have been taking a much more inclusive approach to Daisies in recent years regarding gender identity.” As an example, Senior Co-Coordinator Marisa Petticord ’21 said, “Graduation 2019 was the first time that Daisy Chain members could wear clothing other than dresses.” With the addition of more freedom in clothing options—arranged and paid for by the senior class—every member can feel comfortable regardless of their gender identity. Both coordinators hope this will open a door to further disintegration of the lingering gender roles embedded in the ceremony.

Today, all 15 members are chosen through a merit- and interest-based application process and interviewed by the senior coordinators. The tenet of one foot of Hudson Valley daisies per senior was also eventually restricted to 150 feet (if they didn’t cap it, the chain would now be 600+ feet long!) and outsourced for the sake of improving ecological sustainability in the valley.

The combination of the Daisies’ significance in Vassar culture and the opportunity for improvement to inclusivity and programming is what drew Costner and Petticord to their positions. Both Costner and Petticord reflected that their experience as Daisies their sophomore year was life-changing, and they sought to keep the momentum going. 

The Daisies are also a fundraising-based organization, and all proceeds go towards the senior class budget of that year. Costner reflected on the challenge this year’s fundraising efforts have faced: “How can we raise money for the senior class in a safe and efficient way? And how do we have fun programming in the midst of the pandemic?” 

After careful consideration, Costner and Petticord have decided to host a “Vassar Build-a-Bear” event, a teddy bear fundraiser currently scheduled for November 15th. Costner added that announcements for the event are coming shortly, as well as programming for the spring semester.

Due to last semester’s virtual graduation, the sophomores chosen for the Daisies were not able to participate. The coordinators chose to stray from tradition as a result, in order to address the effects of the cancellation. “Because being on the Daisy Chain was such an integral part of my time at Vassar, I wanted to make sure that [the Class of 2022] was not excluded from this amazing experience,” says Petticord. Thus, the application process was extended to both Class of 2022 and 2023 students, and the resulting group of Daisies is a combination of the two. 

To learn more about the Daisies’ history, both Costner and Petticord urge students to both explore Vassar databases such as VC Encyclopedia and approach them directly. The pair are committed to not only preserving the Daisy Chain tradition, but to passing down their enthusiasm and experiences to their peers before their Vassar careers draw to a close.

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