Rituals in the Higher Education Institutions

Subject: Culture
Type: Narrative Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1442
Topics: Tradition, Community


Across the world, diversity is identified through the multiplicity of cultures and the beliefs that shape certain communities. In many of these cultures, Collins and Lewis (2008) observe that there are ritualistic practices that are intertwined with the identity of the culture, hence are used as socialization means among the people who participate in these cultures. The same could be said for higher education institutions. Many people who underwent university or college life tend to downplay the significance of rituals and ceremony within these institutions. Despite this, many of these institutions have ingrained such events into their calendars, as depicted in the historical attire that defines the graduation ceremonies in many universities across the world. It could be argued, therefore, that the procession in the academic attire, coupled with the special music and mace are traditions that arose from the ritualistic and ceremonial significance of these events in the identity of university life. 

Rituals, as depicted in the above outline, play a pivotal role in defining the culture of higher education. This forms the basis of this interactive essay, which analyses the concept of ritualism in the higher education institutions through the lenses of the Annual Alumni Parade and Laurel Chain at the Mount Holyoke College. This discussion focuses on the role that this tradition plays in defining the uniqueness of this college. In studying the processes of socialization, the contributions made in this paper would go a long way in ascertaining the need for participants in a community to acknowledge the significance and relevance of the cultural underpinnings that define the community. 

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The Alumni Parade and Laurel Chain at the Mount Holyoke College is a ritualistic event which dates back to the year 1900 when the graduating seniors laid wreaths of remembrance and laurel as a way of paying homage to the institution. The event, which occurred at the grave of the school’s founder Mary Lyon, was accompanied by the school anthem “Holyoke, Tried and True.” In 1902, the Mount Holyoke College Tradition was born, as the laurel chains replaced the wreaths (Mount Holyoke College, 2018). 

The tradition was dubbed the laurel chain ceremony until in 1932 when it was integrated into the college’s annual alumnae parade. Today, this ceremony is the pinnacle of the parade, and has been recognized by the successive administrations of Mount Holyoke College. This is proven in the special allocation of the event in the college’s calendar, which is fixed on the commencement weekend. According to the college’s website, this ritual is often an indication of transition from being a student to alumni.

The parade today features a procession to the grave of the school founder. The procession is linked by two laurel chains of 275 yards. The seniors, who are transitioning into alumnae, weave the chain around the fence of the grave site, while singing “Bread and Roses.” This was a song that was adopted by labor dispute complainants who were demanding accommodative hours of work and reasonable remuneration at a textile mill in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The event is depicted by an all-white theme, which requires that the seniors be dressed in white. The laurel chains used in the ceremony are made out of mountain laurel. 

Significance of the ritual to the participants

As elucidated above, the participants in this ritual are MHC students who are transitioning to alumnae. The ritual features the engendered senior class marching while dressed in white. There are evidences of age and experience differences among the participants of the ritual, but this does not overshadow the spirit of togetherness as the women line in the parade route while marching. To the participants, this ritual plays a significant role in ushering in life after university. The economic statuses, age, races, individual differences or preferences and personal interests of the participants are all pushed to the edge as the women celebrate their temporary oneness. The primary identity at the unifying moment is attributed to the association they depict with the college and the solidarity they show one another. 

The participants of the Alumni Parade and Laurel Chain at the Mount Holyoke College consider this ceremony as a depiction of the solidarity that the college has with the historical struggles that were faced by the oppressed in the society. The white theme that identifies the dress code in this annual ritualistic event was drawn from the suffragettes who adopted the white dress code when campaigning for the women’s right to vote (Mount Holyoke College, 2018). On the other hand, the laurel chains, which are made out of mountain laurel, were used in ancient times as representation of glory, achievement and honor. This ritual is a formative experience through which the participants seek the identity of the community among those that share biological and cultural features. This symbolic use of mountain laurels and white dresses is the signal mark of identity that the participants acquire from Alumni Parade and Laurel Chain at the Mount Holyoke College.

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Critique of the ritual’s success at achieving its purpose

An analysis of the case study reveals that the values of togetherness and equality are conceptually explained in the integration and socialization processes of the ritual. The values of togetherness and equality are prevalent in the annual ritual, as each alumni year has similar activities that facilitate the socialization process of togetherness. The purpose of the ritual, as documented by the university, is to promote remembrance, equality and sisterhood, thus the engendered procession. The ritual, therefore, has succeeded in creating a family and community among the participants, despite the fact that they are not economically, culturally or biologically related.

At the college, the ritual acts as incorporation between those entering and those exiting. Each year, the first-year students are provided with the opportunity to experience the age-long ritual, while the seniors exit into the alumnae field, in which they are going to be new as well. The ritual is designed to usher in the newcomers into their respective new worlds, hence its success in proving that equality and togetherness are core determinants in the transition processes. Similarly, this ritual succeeds in explaining the methods of transition from one role to the other within the community. 

During rituals, initiative and skepticism are evidenced (Manning, 2013). The ritual delivers its message with an element of ambiguity. The participants, therefore, are not handed with messages in a clear cut way, rather they are teased out. In the socialization process of transitioning from the university into alumnae, the Alumni Parade and Laurel Chain at the Mount Holyoke College succeed in preparing the participants for a world of ambiguity after their graduation. By including inequality of pay and representation of the vulnerable as the main themes of remembrance, the ritual succeeds in telling the ritual participants that the world is unsafe especially for the socially marginalized and vulnerable, such as women. Therefore, the ritual passes a message of reward for hard work, and the need for togetherness among the vulnerable as a way of finding answers to the problems and dangers that the ambiguous world presents to the vulnerable.

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How the ritual shapes the student’s experience

Rituals bind communities in different ways, as demonstrated by Manning (2013). The ritual is anchored on the themes of socialization, remembrance and equality. These themes shape the student experiences by focusing on their moral development, their behaviors, intellectual development and social interactions with their peers. To understand how rituals shape the experiences of people in a community, Collins and Lewis (2008) referred to the socialization theory. According to this theory, rituals implement the socialization process through social control. In this instance, the Alumni Parade and Laurel Chain at the Mount Holyoke College asserts its influence on the student experience through exclusively including the seniors in the event, which depicts the theme of social control as propagated by the theory of socialization. Therefore, the ritual shapes the student’s experiences by designing a code that defines the norms of the larger society to which these students belong.


In this essay, the Alumni Parade and Laurel Chain ritual that takes place at the Mount Holyoke College is described. The study establishes that the ritual plays a significant role in the transition of students to alumnae, hence the adoption of new roles in the community. This essay further reveals that rituals are an important aspect of the socialization process, as they contribute to the willing acceptance of people in the norms that identify a community. In conclusion, the contributions made in this paper go a long way in ascertaining the need for participants in a community to acknowledge the significance and relevance of the cultural underpinnings that define the community. 

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  1. Collins, A., & Lewis, B. (2008). How Rituals and Traditions Are Used as Tools of Socialization at Black Women’s Colleges. Journal of Thought43(3-4), 47. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/jthought.43.3-4.47
  2. Manning, K. (2013). Ritual, ceremonies, and cultural meaning in higher education (4th Ed.). Westport, Conn.: Praeger.
  3. Mount Holyoke College. (2018). The Laurel ParadeMount Holyoke College. Retrieved 7 February 2018, from https://www.mtholyoke.edu/stories/65528/laurel-parade 
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