May 16, 2003
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass. Reshaping a 19th-century tradition, Amherst College will present each member of the Class of 2003 with a new Senior Class Cane at Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 25.

Jose Abad, an English major from Amherst, Mass., Benjamin Baum, a history and European Studies major from Plymouth, Mass., and Ciona van Dijk, a philosophy and psychology major from Glenwood Spring, Colo., members of the Friends of the Amherst College Library Student Activities Committee, originated the plan. "Last October," Abad recalls, "we were just wondering if we couldn't revive some old college tradition." He adds, with a smile, "we quickly eliminated the idea of beanies."

Freshmen at Amherst were once required to wear the small brimless cap known as a "beanie." The cane tradition also originated in the 19th century. When a student attained sophomore status, he was allowed to wear a class top hat and carry a class cane. Sophomores bought canes and hats in styles distinctive to their class. The archives in the college library, where Abad worked last summer, contained many faded photographs of students and alumni sporting top hats and canes. There are even a few canes, some with carved signatures. (A collection of these artifacts is on display at the Robert Frost Library until May 26.)

College archivist Daria D'Arienzo says, "There wasn't much written about the canes. This is a truly visual history." One of the few written references was in an 1871 volume, Student Life at Amherst College, in which George C. Cutting detailed the cane tradition, which seemed to fall out of favor early in the 20th century, D'Arienzo notes.

The students enlisted the aid of the Friends of the Amherst College Library, the Association of Amherst Students, the Office of Alumni and Parent Programs and the Office of the President to purchase canes for this graduating class.

The dark 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 "2003," was copied from a 19th-century college glee club program in the archives.