Students march in the 2023 Pre-rade.
Princeton University, Office of Communications, Nicole Guglielmo (2023)

When the posse’s chasing you out of town, just act like you’re the head of the parade. — Mike D’Antoni

Another year underway, another Pre-rade in the books. The Class of 2027 was the 20th class to participate in the new tradition — 20-year-old traditions are “new” here, certainly if you stop and think about the Latin Salutatory Address — in the 19th Pre-rade (thanks again, COVID).. 

There is ample proof that we Tigers have a fine locale in which to march/gambol/stroll/meander/lollygag/stride/parade around, in forms more or less organized or pre-planned. Reaching far back to official college celebratory days such as Commencement, some limited forms of academic parading sprang from the processions in more somber religious services. They were quickly augmented by alumni (marching alumni, what a surprise …) trundling off to rowdier celebrations around town following said commencements. The various Civil War regiments marching through town were a huge hit, inspiring cheers, music, fireworks, song, and various embellishments of the Reunions activities at Commencement, which were in turn further enhanced by the coordination with the Yale baseball game and the trudge down Prospect Avenue to College Field in the 1880s. Then in 1896 everything combined to explode into a great torchlight parade to celebrate the College’s 150th anniversary and transformation into Princeton University. Plus the robed procession of global dignitaries at the convocation celebrating the occasion, orchestrated by our old buddy Andrew Fleming West 1874, who was not only on the national academic costume committee, but eventually got around to designing the Grad College to save Warner Brothers time and money imagineering Hogwarts. Plus the later Commencement parade to the baseball field, newly regimented by class seniority to create some sort of order.  

Different embellishments on the P-rade theme arise from time to time: In addition to the current Pre-rade to give the freshman class a warm, fuzzy feeling, there has been the rise of Tiger Band, one of the marchingest groups you’ll encounter, the very first college band to trudge on the sacred gridiron at halftime in 1920 and start making alumni mad, never mind their spiffy processions about the campus for games, Reunions, dunks in the SPIA fountain, stuff like that. When photography was new and the initial class photo for the freshmen class became a thing (it morphed into the flour picture, more on that later), there instantly became a freshman P-rade from the Nassau Hall steps to Clio where the posing and carnage ensued. The sophomores who remained at Reunions had their own Junior High Hat Parade, where they were issued silk hats and canes symbolizing their ascension to upperclass status; this thrived from the 1870s through 1927, after which the paucity of sophs at Reunions caused it to fizzle. 

We raise this to prepare you for this year’s festive Senior P-rade on Saturday, Oct. 7. But “Wait ho!” I hear you, the Razor Sharp Historian say, “Wait ho! I been around Holder Quad a good long spell, and ain’t never heard o’ no ‘Senior P-rade.’” Correctamundo, RSH, and therein lies today’s tale: From the campus where virtually every day is a new parade, this is the story of the P-rade so resilient it died twice

It begins with baseball, as many good all-American stories do. Princeton’s first intercollegiate sport, it bloomed following the Civil War and maintained its status as the No. 2 sport on campus through the football craze of the 1880s and thereafter. (Fun fact: Early in the 20th century, Big Three championships in baseball earned bonfires just like football. They were held early the following fall, serving additionally as a preseason football pep rally. This tradition faded with the construction of Palmer Stadium and the interruption of World War I, which cemented football’s primacy.) Each class had its own baseball squad which might compete informally against parallel teams from other schools or whomever they could find, while the varsity played its formal schedule and garnered the headlines. The class teams would also play each other each year in a round robin that became increasingly competitive and formalized, with each of the six yearly games established into its own schedule and surrounding hoopla. A trophy which appeared for the overall championship each year became the focus of huge class pride: The Class of 1897 became legendary for sweeping its games for four years, thus permanently retiring the trophy; it was promptly replaced with a new one and the intensity redoubled. The sophomore-freshman game the first Saturday in October (often coincident with the first football game) became the focus of much campus-wide interest, both to see the quality of the new players with eventual varsity potential, and to find out if the freshman class had the “right stuff.” 

“Aha!” you the RSH exclaim as you sit bolt upright, “I know that codeword, that’s an excuse for horsing!” And indeed, we are back in the world of harassing the campus newbies in the name of building better men or some such drivel, in the type of tradition-encumbered, unwritten-rule-laden complexity that only Princeton can create. And did. When “hazing” was outlawed by the students (with a nudge from the faculty) in 1894 but “horsing” of frosh — supposedly less severe — was still allowed (try to figure that out …), the intricacies of the practice became ever more polished, complex, and ingrained. Eventually, horsing was not allowed after a certain date, which miraculously became the day after the freshman-sophomore baseball game. So the sophs would set up all sorts of distracting indignities in the stands to upset the tender young sprouts and bother their naïve squad. And more ominously, the seniors, who technically didn’t have a tiger in the fight, formed up on campus and began the Senior Parade (here we go again) down Prospect Avenue to the game. They were (surprise!) not interested in the quality of the infield play or the fine fall air, but in making the frosh miserable too. Which they did. After the Big P-rade supercharging of 1896, the seniors started showing up in various garish costumes, which somehow added to the unruliness of their march and field activities. After disrupting the stands became insufficiently exciting, the seniors took to running onto the field, horsing frosh and ruining play during the game. The Senior Council (the all-senior student government of the time) tried a few times to rein things in a bit, but that fizzled, so the day before the game in 1908 the Faculty Committee on Discipline, which clearly had a nice sense for the jugular, recommended “that all costuming and masquerading on the campus or University Field the day of the Sophomore-Freshman baseball game be forbidden.” The Council folded like crepe paper in a deluge, and the following day’s Senior P-rade was cancelled, never to be heard from again.


The two active drivers of the tradition — horsing and parading seniors — did not go gentle into the good night. The Senior Council of 1914 finally “banished horsing” before their graduation, although there remained a long list of freshman prohibitions and requirements (dinks being the most famed) that remained, transgressions of which were now dealt with in somewhat enigmatic ways. Rushes between the sophs and frosh were not part of the ban, although they took a final blow in the fall of 1915 when a sophomore died of heart arrest during the Election Rush. The Flour Picture, with all its eggy goodness, was also excluded and continued on its chaotic way until 1925, when an idiot from the Class of 1928 added some acid to the liquids rained down on ’29. That was the end of that. What remained (officially) of the combative class rivalries after that was essentially Cane Spree, which continued, semi-civilized and socially acceptable, into the 21st century.

As to compulsively parading seniors, you really must tip your mortarboard to the Great Class of 1909, who followed the indignity of losing their Senior Parade by immediately creating an almost equally crass alternative. They kept their garish costumes in the closet over the long, dreary Jersey winter and broke them out again on March 17 in time for a new and improved (?) parade — there were even floats — which ended up at the bar of the Nass on Nassau Street in honor of every degrading ethnic stereotype you could ever dredge up to associate with St. Patrick’s Day. The speeches from the balcony overlooking the street were reportedly spirited, along with mostly everything else. Until it wasn’t. Prohibition cramped the 1920 St. Patrick’s Parade (the seniors had ghostly winged steins on their beer jackets), crippled the 1921 parade, and in a tribute to bad government and Celtic artistry, the final parade in 1922 included the solemn and ornate funeral of John Barleycorn, the symbolic 100-proof hero of one of the oldest and least subtle ballads in Scotch/Irish history, which is saying something. 

And after 30 years or so of garish acting out and obnoxious behavior to all comers in two incarnations, the linchpin of the senior class spirit(s) passed into history. Unless of course you count the increasing assaults on The Christian Student, which were also partly fueled by Prohibition; its denouement was administered following Commencement … by the senior Class of 1929.