the Alumni Parade held annually on the Saturday before Commencement
as the climax of class reunions, originated in the 1890s but, as
now conducted, is related to an earlier alumni event: beginning
soon after the Civil War, alumni classes had been taking part, on
Commencement Day, in an ordered procession to the place of their
dinner meeting where ``an excellent and abundant meal,'' was followed
by five or six alumni speeches, ``both grave and witty, serious
The more lighthearted Saturday parade
grew out of the baseball rivalry between Yale and Princeton. Their
teams first met in 1868, and twenty years later began playing one
of their several games at Princeton on the Saturday before Commencement.
Alumni attendance grew, and now and then a class back for a reunion
would march to the game behind a band. In 1897, stimulated by a
torchlight procession of alumni at the Sesquicentennial celebration
the previous fall, all the ``reuning'' classes joined in a parade
to the game. Thus began the most colorful event of the annual Commencement
For many years, the P-rade (as it came
to be known) formed in front of Nassau Hall, moved across the Campus
to '79 Arch, down Prospect Avenue, through the Thompson Gateway,
and around University Field, passing in review before the president's
box behind first base.
At first the sole decoration worn by
returning alumni was a badge with class numerals on it. Gradually
classes began to distinguish themselves by using class hats, balloons,
parasols, large palm leaf fans, and before long younger classes
were wearing colorful costumes, carrying humorous signs, and sometimes
performing comic stunts.
In 1907, the Class of 1897, dressed
as Dutch boys, made an arresting sight -- and sound -- as they clattered
along in their wooden shoes.
A year later, the Class of 1898 marched
as a Roman Legion, with tunics, buskins, shields, and swords, wheeling
at their head a reproduction of the Arch of Trajan, on which was
A I N T T H I S A T R I U M P H
In 1909, not long after Princeton had
been given its lake by the Scottish-American Andrew Carnegie, the
Class of 1904 appeared in an orange and black tartan highland dress,
led by a bagpipe band of highlanders in bonnet, kilt, and sporran.
As the stalwart drum major whirled his baton, the double-jointed
drummer pummeled his drum, and the pipers piped their martial airs,
the long line of '04 Highlanders presented the appearance of a Scottish
regiment on parade, winning the crowd's thunderous applause.
In 1910 the Class of 1900 paraded in
long gowns as suffragettes, with the former football player ``Big
Bill'' Edwards, leading on horseback, as an improbable Joan of Arc.
In 1916, when interest in the preparedness
movement was mounting, the Class of 1906 wore the top hat, chin
whiskers, white-starred blue tailcoat and the red and white striped
trousers of Uncle Sam.
At the ``Victory Commencement'' of
1919 a throng of alumni, happy to be back from the war, formed the
longest and most colorful P-rade up to that time. That year Alumni
Day coincided with Flag Day, and at the conclusion of the parade,
a band struck up ``The Battle Hymn of the Republic,'' and five thousand
alumni marched across University Field, waving their flags from
right to left with each step -- -``a moving sight,'' the Alumni
Weekly reported, ``which brought the 10,000 spectators to their
An even longer P-rade took place in
1946 when 7,300 alumni returned to Princeton for a ``Victory Reunion.''
The procession reached a climax on University Field with the massing
of service flags showing the number in each class who had served
in the war and the number who had given their lives.
In general, classes have tended to
wear costumes through their fifteenth or twentieth reunions, class
blazers and occasionally gay umbrellas with class numerals through
their fiftieth, and thereafter, blazers or simply hatbands with
Over the years, alumni have appeared
as Mexican bullfighters, Roman gladiators, convicts, Spanish toreadors,
pirates, zouaves, French artists, Apache dancers, Roman emperors,
pierrots, cowboys, Anzacs, French sailors, Confederate soldiers,
Indians, the French Foreign Legion, African hunters, chefs, firemen,
baseball players, spacemen, and even as tigers.
Live animals have added excitement
front time to time: in 1906 a troupe of trained lions, in 1923 two
tigers, in 1949 three elephants who led the clowns of '44 around
the field and then knelt in front of the president's box.
Bands have always been an indispensable
element. Every class celebrating a major reunion (i. e. those occurring
at five-year intervals) has usually had one, and occasionally one
or two classes celebrating ``off-year'' reunions have had them,
too. At times there have been as many as thirty bands punctuating
the long procession-brass bands, bagpipers, fife and drum corps,
all-girl bands -- and at the head of the column, the University
Rain put an occasional damper on the
P-rade, but only once -- in 1953 -- did it force a cancellation
of the parade (and of the game). Some classes insisted on marching
anyway, staging an impromptu parade in the R.O.T.C. armory. After
the storm abated, the twenty-fifth-year Class of 1928 marched to
``Prospect,'' called out President Dodds, and, with him at their
head, marched to University Field and back to the Cannon, accompanied
by the University Band.
From 1961 to 1967 the Alumni P-rade
proceeded to Clarke Field, rather than to University Field, where
the Engineering Quadrangle was built; and in 1966 a further change
was required when Yale found that it could no longer keep its team
together for the post-season Princeton Commencement game. A game
between the Varsity and a team of alumni provided a temporary focus
for the P-rade in 1967. Since 1968 the P-rade has terminated in
an Alumni Association meeting, the alumni once more marching to
their Commencement gathering as their predecessors did in 1865 --
now without the abundant meal and extensive oratory to follow, but
with the color, music, and fun that have, since the Golden Nineties,
been essential ingredients of this unique event.
This is adapted
Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion,
copyright Princeton University Press (1978).