It is interesting at this time of the year when Class Day is absorbing so much attention to know its development and to see how the present festivities compare with those of earlier years. There is no day more dear to the hearts of Seniors than that day to which they have constantly looked forward, Class Day. A hundred years ago the same remark might have been made in regard to commencement, which within late years, for undergraduates at least, has been surpreseded in the hearts of the students by Class Day. It is interesting to watch the rise and fall of these two celebrations. As one has declined, the other has advanced, until at present each occupies its own place, in no way interfering with the other. The white haired graduates still consider Commencement the one day in the college calendar, the day on which they meet their former class mates once again and renew, perhaps for the last time, those bonds of fellowship which death alone can sever. The happy Senior, however, turns instinctively towards Class Day as his day of days. The soft air of June, the bright and happy faces of his fair friends, the countless throng of visitors, the magic-like appearance of the yard, all combine to form a picture which though years will soon efface, affords for the moment the fullest enjoyment.
The origin of Class Day, like most things of which we are proud at Harvard, dates back for many years. In 1754 the overseers of the college attempted to improve the elocution of students by requiring public recitations of dialogues, translated from Latin. Although this attempt failed in its purpose, it aroused among the under-graduates a desire for volunteer displays of oratory, which was the real cause of the festival now known as Class Day. The class of 1760 has the honor of starting the custom, although the list of annual orators does not begin until 1776. Ten years later, in 1786. a poem was added as a regular part of the Class Day exercises.
The foolish custom of requiring Latin as the "court language" of the college, nearly resulted disastrously for the celebration of Class Day, for in 1802 the faculty passed a vote "that the particular kind of exercise in the Senior class at the time of their taking leave of the college be alone adhered to, and that consequently in the future no performance but a Valedictory Oration in the Latin language be permitted, except music adapted to the occasion." This vote put an effectual stop to any general observance of Class Day. In six years, however, the Faculty repented, and the exercises were allowed to continue as before. Thus Class Day gained slowly but surely a recognized place in the closing exercises of the senior year, although it did not by any means compare in importance with Commencement.
In 1834, however, arose the custom of entertaining one's friends with iced punch, procured at Williard's Tavern, (now, alas for the tender memories, better known as the Horse-car Station.) From this meagre beginning the present extensive method of entertainment has sprung. Compare the class day of 1834 with the iced punch, and the class day of 1893 with its spreads and teas, both private and society. Such is progress. In 1850, class day was placed upon the University Calendar by the side of its old rival, Commencement, and there it has remained ever since. The famous dancing on the green, which was much more pleasant in theory than in practice, and the custom of planting the ivy, while the ivy oration was delivered, arose about this time. The exercises around the tree, the cheering of the college buildings, and other familiar features of class day are too well known to need description.