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Celebrating 90 Years of Pushing Seniors

Sophomore Push 1915; courtesty of College Archives

The traditions of Smith College have deep roots, and perhaps one of the oldest and most often overlooked is that of Sophomore Push.

Founded in 1914, Push is a group of some 40 sophomores whose duties during each year’s Commencement weekend include organizing seniors and alumnae for the Ivy Day 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 Neilson Library to signify their entrance into the world beyond Smith.

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 ’06, 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, she says. “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.

Elizabeth Berliner ’05 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 of the Neilson Library steps. “On Illumination Night, all the seniors gathered at the Neilson steps and we sang a bunch of songs to them. Then they all got up on the steps, or squished into a gigantic senior blob, and we pushed them off the steps of the library ‘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 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 has suggested a new tradition that was accepted by the committee this year. “During Illumination Night, all of the seniors will gather by 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 ceremony, the large sign on Paradise Island reading “Class of 2004” will be illuminated.

Whether this particular aspect of Push will continue or not, Push itself is an institution that will likely remain a part of Smith Commencement for the next 90 years. As former sophomore class officer Kathy Crane ’65 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.”

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