As first-year students have yet to discover, during a typical spring semester at Kenyon, the week following Summer Sendoff is marked by a unique sense of unwavering joy and excitement coupled with the stress of looming final exams and assignments. As students leave their respective study spots in Ascension Hall or the Science Quad to take a dip in the Kokosing or toss a frisbee on Peirce Lawn, they are absolutely carefree, even if just for a few minutes. Sendoff itself embodies this; in its 40 years of existence, the event has become a tradition that manages to capture both the chaos and utter bliss of springtime at Kenyon.
It is not entirely clear just how Sendoff came to be. Kenyon lore suggests that the original Sendoff was intended to put an end to the Spring Riot, which first occurred in 1964, when students tore down stop signs in protest of new traffic laws. Similar events continued every year until 1980, when Summer Sendoff was first celebrated. Other riot activities included lighting trees and campus furniture on fire—on one occasion, a piano was thrown out of an Old Kenyon Bullseye window. However, College Historian and Keeper of Kenyoniana Thomas P. Stamp ’73 could not confirm that these alleged riots were the impetus for Sendoff’s creation.
The Sendoff that students know and love today has undergone drastic changes over the years. For one, Sendoff was traditionally held on a Saturday, not a Friday, though festivities have been known to occur on both days. Sendoff has also occurred at several different locations over the years: In 1980, it was held on McBride Field, before moving to South Quad in later years and finally to Ransom Lawn in 1988, where it has been held ever since.
In its 40 years of existence, Summer Sendoff has hosted a variety of artists spanning several different genres of music. Though many pop, rock and hip-hop artists have performed at Sendoff, Kenyon has also hosted several lesser-known country and reggae bands over the years. At times, student and alumni bands would even open the show. In 2009, only five years before they released their hit single, “Shut Up and Dance,” then-student band WALK THE MOON opened for hip-hop duo Clipse.
Although students have, at times, been disappointed to find that Sendoff’s headliner is not the big-name band they had hoped for, on other occasions Kenyon has managed to book household names. In 1982, The Romantics, who are best known for their song, “What I Like About You,” drew crowds of students to their performance on South Quad. Hip-hop trio De La Soul also played at Sendoff twice, in 1999 and 2007. Indie rock group STRFKR has performed at Sendoff as well, and has gone on to become one of the most well-known indie bands around since coming to Kenyon in 2012. In more recent memory, the most famous artist to play at Sendoff has been rapper Logic.
But the crowning jewel in the history of Summer Sendoff artists is, by far, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who performed in 1986. At the time, though, Kenyon students were unaware that they were seeing history in the making. It would be an understatement to say that the band did not receive the warmest of welcomes: Mere moments after the Chili Peppers started playing, floods of students began leaving South Quad. Though some may have just been unimpressed with the band’s unique sound, others may have been turned off by their raunchiness. As one Collegian reporter said in a May 1986 article documenting the performance, “I knew from the moment the band leader suggested to the audience that they hold their genitals in their mouths that a beautiful experience was in the making.” Those who stuck around for the performance were also less than pleased; as described in the same article, the band had to continue playing while avoiding “various projectiles being launched towards them from the crowd.” Students in attendance never would have guessed that the Collegian would write a rave review of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ One Hot Minute less than a decade later.
An assortment of other amenities have been added and subtracted from Summer Sendoff in its time. Summer Sendoff shirts, which have since become a much-anticipated feature of the annual event, were sold for the first time in 1984. In an attempt to model larger music festivals like Lollapalooza, Sendoff 1996 featured two separate stages, with one next to Ransom Hall and the other in front of Rosse Hall. In 1997, Social Board rented various inflatable rides, such as a Velcro wall and sumo wrestling, though it seems these did not catch on (inflatable rides and intoxicated students likely did not make for a good combination).
While food has always been widely available at Summer Sendoff, alcoholic beverages, on the other hand, have not. Prior to 1987, beer was served for free at Sendoff, but in 1988, Sendoff was moved to Ransom Lawn in order to enforce stricter alcohol policies. In 2011, fencing was installed at Sendoff for the first time, marking where alcohol could and could not be consumed. In recent years, though, of-age students have been allowed to purchase alcoholic beverages at the event.
Sendoff has also been at the center of many campus and community-wide controversies. According to a Collegian article from May 2001, a string of thefts were reported to have occurred during that year’s Sendoff festivities. The robber reportedly broke into five different student-owned vehicles, taking a Caselogic, a CD player, $600 worth of CDs and an envelope with $180 in it. Several complaints regarding noise and litter have also been filed with the Village Council over the years. In 1996, several weeks of angry letters to the editor came to the Collegian after alumni band Pimento for Gus was not invited back to Sendoff after having played the event for four consecutive years. When Sendoff 2016 was moved to the weekend before exams, a decision which was made with little input from the Student Council, Community Advisors drafted a petition to move it back to the typical date, as they felt enforcing 24-hour quiet hours would be next to impossible following the event.
But even in incidents of extreme passion, it is clear that this anger stems from Kenyon’s deeply rooted love for Summer Sendoff and the unique atmosphere of springtime at Kenyon. Though recent Summer Sendoffs hardly resemble the festivities of 40 years ago, Sendoff is a tradition that will continue to persist for years to come.