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April 6, 2004

Celebrating 90 Years Of 'Push'

Hard Work of 'Sophomore Push'

Editor's note: For a high-res digital file of the first "sophomore push" committee of 1915, contact Marti Hobbes, at or (413) 585-2190.

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- The traditions of Smith College have deep roots, and perhaps one of the oldest and most often overlooked traditions is that of the Sophomore Push Committee, otherwise known as "Push."

Founded officially in 1914, Push is a group of some 40 sophomores whose duties during each year's Commencement weekend include organizing seniors and alumnae for a parade, helping nervous seniors pin their caps on moments before graduation, singing songs specifically chosen for each reunion class and gently pushing seniors off the steps of the college's library to signify their entrance into the "real world.

Needless to say, they are busy women.

"Our job is basically to make seniors look good and to make sure that everything runs smoothly," said Erika Rodriguez, this year's head of Push. Rodriguez committed to the position as a first-year student last year and served as assistant head of Push in order to "learn the ropes" of this complicated position. "During Senior Week, we sing to alums, collaborate with junior ushers to alphabetize seniors so that their name is called correctly, help guide alums into the right places and run errands as well."

While certain duties have changed or disappeared altogether -- such as the sophomore-led, hoop-rolling competition -- much has remained the same. Esther Wyman, who graduated from Smith in 1911, reminisced about her experiences with Sophomore Push before it became an official committee and would certainly agree with Rodriguez that the job is important, yet tiring.

In a 1958 letter Wynan wrote, "We wore white dresses with green ribbons across our fronts. I remember staying over for Commencement, taking charge of the job and being so tired I nearly died before it was all over. We were really worked by everyone who had eyes to see."

That year and for a few years after, these unofficial sophomore errand-runners received no recognition for their hard work. "In 1914 ... Sophomore Push Committee, full fledged, with duties and prestige to match, took up its proper function at Commencement," wrote Wyman. And thus a significant addition to Smith tradition was made.

Junior Elizabeth Berliner participated in last year's Commencement as a member of Push. One of her favorite moments -- besides singing to alums -- was the pushing of seniors off the library steps. "On the eve of Commencement, all the seniors gathered at the steps and we sang to them. Then they all got on the steps -- or squished into a gigantic senior blob -- and we pushed them off 'into the real world.'

"We [also] learned the intricate 'ins and outs' of all the Commencement activities, complete with floor plans and diagrams," continued Berliner, who enjoyed Commencement so much last year she is participating as a junior usher this year.

Over the decades, Push has become both a means to enjoy Commencement with senior friends and an honor. "I've really enjoyed being a part of Commencement," said Rodriguez. "This year is even more special because I am an engineering major, and this class is the first with engineering graduates -- and I feel proud to be a part of that."

Rodriguez proposed a new ceremony that was accepted by the committee this year. "The night before graduation, all of the seniors will gather by the campus' Paradise Pond holding candles. The senior class president's will be lit, and then all of the others from that one candle, to represent the Smith community," explained Rodriguez with excitement. After the candle lighting, the large sign on Paradise Island reading "Class of 2004" will be illuminated.

Whether this particular rite will become a tradition or not, Push itself is an institution that will likely remain a part of Smith's Commencement for another 90 years. As former sophomore class officer Kathy Crane, Class of 1965, wrote in the notes she passed on to the following year's sophomore class, "Push is a lot of work, some of it quite taxing. At the time, you may wonder whether it was all worth it. But as I look back now, it was one of the high spots of the year."

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 60 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's college in the country.


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Marti Hobbes
News Assistant
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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