Section: Features

From the Archives: Traditions for greeting new presidents

From the Archives: Traditions for greeting new presidents


Kenyon is a school with many traditions. Some, like avoiding the seal in Peirce Dining Hall or walking on the same side as others through the “Gates of Hell,” are commonplace, but there are other traditions that occur much less often. On Oct. 1, President-elect Julie Kornfeld will start as Kenyon’s 20th President, and though the date of her official inauguration has not yet been announced, it is likely to include some of Kenyon’s rarest rituals. 

The last inauguration was for former President Sean Decatur in 2013. It featured an Installation Ceremony, a procession followed by speeches before Decatur was officially sworn in as President, an all-campus party and a lesser-known tradition named The Illumination of Old Kenyon. The Illumination traces its origin back to 1833, when students lit candles in the windows of their rooms to welcome the College’s second president, Charles Pettit McIlvaine. The tradition has continued ever since, though there have been some modern alterations: Due to the risk of fire, the Illumination is now electronic and relies on external lighting. For Decatur’s Illumination, 80 LED battery-powered lights were controlled remotely and lit up Old Kenyon in its signature purple while gel stickers spelled out “Welcome Sean and Family.” 

Perhaps even more exciting is the chance to hear the bell in the steeple of Old Kenyon. It used to be a tradition to ring the bell upon the occasional victory of the Kenyon football team, but in more recent times, the clapper of the bell has been removed and is stored in the College Archives. It has also been used to celebrate the end of wars and for visits from special guests, such as President Rutherford B. Hayes, who graduated from Kenyon in 1842, and visited the College often after his presidency. Its most consistent use, though, is for Kenyon presidential inaugurations. The number of times the bell is rung corresponds with the number of College presidents, according to a Collegian article from 2013. If the tradition continues, it will ring 20 times to usher in Kornfeld.

In addition to Kornfeld’s inauguration, the 2023-24 school year will include other unique moments on campus. Next semester marks the College’s bicentennial, and on April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will envelop Gambier. This year will be the first time since 1806 that Ohio has been in the path of totality, and it will be the last time until 2099. These events all promise excitement for students on campus, and the community will be brought together as the Old Kenyon bell rings once again.

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