graduates holding canes at the commencement ceremony

A Commencement Tradition: The Conway Canes

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 scorched beechwood canes are of the “Derby standard” type, with a handle shaped in a delicate S-curve. The canes are handcrafted in Taiwan by a third generation wood craftsman, William Lin, who also makes handcrafted violins. The seal on the canes, which includes the class year, was copied from a 19th-century College glee club program in the College archives.

A Gift to the Graduates: The Revival of Conway Canes

Students in commencement gowns holding canes and purple diploma tubes

The Amherst Student

November 15, 2023

Most college and university commencements look the same. But the scene of Amherst’s graduation looks a little different: A sea of graduates holding beechwood walking sticks.

Amherst Student Article