Although many attempts have been made to trace back the observance of class day to the very earliest years of the college, it is probable that the first exercises are directly due to an attempt made by the overseers in 1754 to improve the elocution of the students by requiring public recitation of Latin dialogues, or dialogues translated from the Latin into the English.
The first organization of the senior class for a literary festival seems to date from 1760. Our list of annual orators does not begin until 1776, and it was not until 1786 that the poem was added. The first two orations (in 1776 and 1777) were in English, the third and fourth in Latin, and it was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century that the English language became generally used in the orations. The poems were about all English from the very first. In 1802 the faculty, fearing a gradual dying out of the Latin oration, prescribed the use of that language in all senior class day orations, and limited the exercises to a simple Latin valedictory and music "adapted to the occasion."
From a diary in the College Words and Customs we extract the following account of a class day in 1793 : "The order of the day was this : At ten the class walked in procession to the president's house and escorted him, the professors and tutors to the chapel, preceded by the band playing solemn music. The president began with a short prayer. He then read a chapter in the Bible; after this he prayed again; Cutler then delivered his poem. Then the singing club, accompanied by the band, performed Williams' Friendship. This was succeeded by a valedictory Latin oration by Jackson. We then formed and waited on the government, (i. e., the faculty,) to the president's, where we were very respectably treated with wine, etc. We then marched in procession to Jackson's room, where we drank punch. At one we went to Mr. Moore's tavern and partook of an elegant entertainment which cost 6s. 8d. ($1.06 1/4) apiece. Marching then to Cutler's room, we shook hands and parted, with expressing tokens of the sincerest friendship."
Another diarist gives us a glimpse of class day of 1829, when Holmes was poet; "1829, July 14, Tuesday. - At ten I was in University Chapel for the valedictory exercises of the senior class. Oration by Devereaux of Salem; poem by young Holmes, son of Rev. Dr. Holmes of this town. He is both young and small, in distinction from most others, and on these circumstances he contrived to cut some good jokes. His poem was very happy, and abounded in wit. Instead of a spiritual muse, he invoked for his goddesses the ladies present, and, in so doing, he sang very amusingly of his 'hapless amour with too tall a maid.' After these parts Joseph Angier rose among his class and sang a song to the tune of 'Auld Lang Syne,' all the class joining in the chorus. After the services the whole class went to take leave of President Quincy at his house; a very agreeable gathering. Cake, wine and lemonade were served."
So early as 1834 the custom had begun of the senior class treating everybody with iced punch on class day afternoon. The punch was brought in buckets from Willard's Tavern (now the horse railway station) and served out in the shade on the northern side of Harvard Hall. After a while an odest was added, and then a chorister. After many changes class day has at last become what it is now - the happiest day of the year. May it prove as happy for '82 as it has for previous classes.