Renewing a Ritual

Kenyon College is steeped in tradition, customs passed from one generation to the next. A few of these traditions rise to the level of ritual, ceremonial actions that, when performed, embody our values and define our identities. Traditions are sometimes inherited unconsciously, while rituals, because they must be intentionally performed anew each time, demand constant evolution, so that the meaning behind the symbolism may continue to transcend time.

Since the 1880s, Founders’ Day has been a Kenyon tradition, our own twist on the Christian holiday All Saints’ Day. According to the Anglican and Episcopal churches, All Saints’ Day is a moment to reflect upon our ancestors, acknowledging those who came before us in order to root us in our spiritual family.  At Kenyon, Founders’ Day is a moment where we remember those whose efforts and sacrifices built the institution we have today, celebrating the links that stretch back in time and unite all of us who spend time here on the Hill.

On the recommendation of Bishop Gregory Bedell, in 1880 Kenyon folded the Rite of Matriculation into the Founders’ Day celebration. Since 1841, each new Kenyon student, upon passing a 20-week probationary period, officially matriculated into the College, agreeing to accept the rules and regulations of the College. By 1880, the concept of a probationary period had faded, but the rituals of matriculation remained: repeating the Matriculation Oath, a commitment to honor the values of the Kenyon community, and the signing of the Matriculation Book. By combining the Rite of Matriculation with Founders’ Day, Kenyon blended the tradition of honoring the past with the ritual of new students committing to their (and Kenyon’s) future.

The Matriculation Oath has evolved in the past, most recently upon the admission of women to the College almost 50 years ago. At this year’s Founders’ Day, we introduce yet another version of the Oath that articulates some of the core values of the Kenyon community. Over the summer, a group of students, faculty and staff collaborated on this project, presenting a version to members of the Faculty Executive Committee and Staff Council in August, and gaining the approval of Student Council and Campus Senate in September. The new Oath reads:

“We, undergraduates of Kenyon College, being now admitted to the rite of matriculation, do undertake the following promise:

As members of the Kenyon College community, we will devote ourselves to the shared values of mutual respect, inclusive citizenship, spirited inquiry, and intellectual integrity. In so doing, now and in our lives hereafter, we honor those who came before us on Gambier Hill.”

Choosing to belong to this community means more than agreeing to obey the rules set forth in the student handbook (as the prior Matriculation Oath made clear). Respect, citizenship, inquiry and integrity: These values transcend any set of rules, and transcend time, reflecting our individual and collective aspirations as members of the Kenyon community. This new Matriculation Oath honors these essential aspects of a Kenyon education and invites our newest students to share in this commitment.