Autographs for the AgesGAMBIER, Ohio (October 26, 2010)
The Matriculation Book is one of the most cherished treasures on campus, perhaps as carefully protected as the nation's nuclear launch codes. The book is kept under lock and key in the climate-controlled Greenslade Special Collections Room in the Olin Library.
The book appears on special occasions, including on Thursday, for the annual Founders' Day ceremony, when members of the Class of 2014 will sign the book just as each student from the previous 173 years has done. "This is putting yourself into the Kenyon community for the rest of your life and beyond," said Kayleigh Truman'10 of Schenectady, New York, who entered her name for the ages four years ago.
Some students are nervous enough that they practice their penmanship before signing. Some agonize over the size and shape of their letters and marvel at the sight of signatures of parents, grandparents, and celebrity alumni such as U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes, who graduated in 1842, and actor and philanthropist Paul Newman '49.
Students commemorate their signatures with photos and punctuate them with hugs and high-fives. For the absent, ill, and otherwise unaccounted, the book keeps open pages. "We have juniors, seniors, and alumni coming back to ask us if it is too late to sign," said Tacci Smith, associate dean of students. "Sometimes, freshmen don't appreciate the rich tradition and history of this until they are older."
The Class of 2014 will have the added honor of inaugurating the third book used since 1841 and the first since 1958. "We only replace them when they are filled," said Pamela Faust, coordinator of commencement and convocations. Donated by students in the Class of 2010, the new book is bound in goatskin leather and built with hand-sewn pages made of acid-free paper. Gold-stamped lettering and an image of Old Kenyon highlight the cover design by Visiting Instructor of Art Ellen Sheffield.
Keepers of the book wear white gloves to gingerly thumb through its pages. Truman advises first-year students to sign with the same level of care. "I ran in there, scribbled down my name and ran out," she said. "I wish I would have taken the time to appreciate what I was doing. It's more than just another signature."
Read the Founders' Day address by Professor of Sociology Howard Sacks.