Some students at Union College might have felt like crying on Monday, May 12, 1902.
They yelled instead. That was one of the traditions of “Moving-Up Day.”
It was an emotional time — seniors were leaving their collegiate home for full-time jobs. The student body met inside Union’s Old Chapel — during the daily chapel session — to watch the departure. They played a large-scale game of musical chairs in the process.
The Class of 1902, wearing caps and gowns, filed out of seats they had occupied for the past school year and walked to seats just vacated by freshmen. The frosh were moving to chairs reserved for sophomores; the sophomores walked to seats assigned to the junior class. The juniors, who would soon return in the fall as seniors, took over the section just abandoned by the men of ’02.
Dating to 1872
The earliest mention of the ceremony appeared in Union records of 1872. “But the custom may have been introduced earlier,” said the Encyclopedia of Union College History. “Similar rites of passage were common at other American colleges.”
The young men knew what to do.
“As soon as all were seated, President Collier of the Class of 1903 took the chair that had been vacated by President Yates of the Class of 1902,” the Schenectady Gazette reported. “Then the juniors gave their class yell for the seniors and the other two classes did the same.”
The 1902 gang answered with its own class yell. “The rest of the time was spent in singing the good old songs of Union,” the newspaper said.
The reporter covering the event tried to explain the hidden meanings.
“There is a great deal of sentimentality in this moving up and it is always felt by the students, but they usually hide it by giving class yells, each class trying to see which can make the most noise,” the writer figured. “The thoughts of many a senior as he again takes a seat in the freshman section turn back to the days when he, as a timid freshman, first took a seat in the old chapel.”
The ceremony moved from the Old Chapel building to Memorial Chapel in 1929. By the late 1930s, according to the college encyclopedia, the chair and vocal exercises were fading away; open sentimentality was no longer in fashion. “Moving-Up Day was held for the last time in 1943.