Every year, the College presents a chestnut cane to each graduate during the Commencement ceremony. The tradition began in 2003, when a group of students revived a 19th-century Amherst practice that celebrated class unity and spirit: In those early years at Amherst, students who attained sophomore status were allowed to wear a top hat and carry a cane, each in a style distinctive to their class.
Made possible by a gift from Brian J. Conway ’80 and Kevin J. Conway ’80 to endow the Fund for College Canes, what are now known as the Conway Canes serve as an enduring symbol of the graduates’ connection to their class and their alma mater. According to Amherst lore, they are also a metaphor for a college education, as they support graduates throughout their lives.
The reddish-brown chestnut canes are of the “Derby standard” type, with a handle shaped in a delicate S-curve. Gastrock, a German company that has been crafting walking sticks in the Werra Valley in the Thuringer Forest since 1868, manufactures them. The seal on the canes, which includes the class year, was copied from a 19th-century College glee club program in the College archives.