RADFORD – Campus customs are a little like plants.
In order to truly endure and thrive, they have to get better as they age, have to take root and grow while also serving roughly the same function that prompted their existence in the first place.
Radford University’s Traditions Week is a prime example.
When it first began five years ago in the spring of 2018, it wasn’t a week at all, just a single day, a festival designed to recognize those middle children of the underclassmen, the sophomores; they aren’t brand new like the freshmen, and they’re not quite the seasoned vets that juniors are, nor are they on the verge of graduation like the seniors.
Sophomores are in the middle, lamented Angela Arnold, the office and budget manager for Student Involvement, but she also pointed out that reaching the center of something is to arrive at its midpoint. That perspective helped launch “Halfway There,” a celebration of second-year students, and formed the seed from which Traditions Week ultimately grew.
“We started ‘Halfway There’ for the sophomores,” Arnold explained. “And then we added an additional event for each year. So, freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, they each have their day now.”
This year’s Traditions Week kicked off April 3 with “First Year Field Day,” which recognizes the accomplishments of the freshman class with a makeshift amusement park on the Muse Hall lawn. It featured a DJ, a climbing wall, inflatable jousting, cornholing competitions and approximately 55 pizzas which, cut eight ways, translates to nearly 450 slices of pie, of which the Class of 2027 made short work.
Adam Stapleton, a freshman cybersecurity major from Gate City, Virginia, turned out and quickly scored a door prize – an insulated tumbler with a brain-shaped stress ball inside.
“I just came out here because, first of all, it’s right outside Muse Hall, and I’m in Muse,” explained Stapleton. “I’ve been hearing about Traditions Week for a while now, and I’ve just been excited to get a break from studying.”
One of the volunteers behind that event was Tanisha Singletary, resident director for Madison and Jefferson halls, who made up part of the First Year Field Day committee.
“The students all appeared to have a great time, which is always what it’s about … and just watching everyone interact was so amazing,” Singletary said after the event.
“First Year Field Day gives students the opportunity to engage with their peers, get some free food and have fun,” she added. “We wanted to ensure that there were activities available for everyone to do, and I believe that we did a great job of doing that.”
April 4 saw the advent of the aforementioned “Halfway There.” The second-year students gathered in front of McConnell Library and were issued challenge coins that represented the promises, wisdom and well-wishes of those that came before them. They took those tokens to The Fountain, where they let them fly into cool waters.
“The idea is that their lessons learned, their memories, their hopes for someone coming up behind them are passed into the coin, and then they toss it in,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Susan Trageser, who kicked off the event with an address to the entire class.
From the Fountain, they then went to Bonnie Plaza for music and pizza and tables of supplies to decorate their new Radford University T-shirts, bearing the “Halfway There” logo on the back.
One of them got an additional surprise – Julia Langheim, a psychology major from Roanoke, Virginia, was tapped through a drawing to receive the annual Presidential Scholarship, a prize worth $4,000 toward next semester’s tuition.
“I was honestly shocked,” Langheim said afterward. “That was the first time I’ve won a raffle or a randomly selected prize, so I was delighted to hear my name called.”
Junior Twilight followed on April 5, with about 230 juniors convening at the Heth Clock Plaza to sample more music, snacks and games, receive a customer keychain registered to them and write and display their wishes on small paper lanterns.
“4.0 GPA. Graduate with honors. Med student,” read one student’s inscribed goals.
As the sun set on the evening event, the third-year students hung their lanterns on strings of light that allowed them to be illuminated from within.
Those glows later merged with bright colored lights as the music rose and dancing broke out on the plaza.
Because Traditions Week falls across the first week of April, weather was a factor that had to be considered.
The April 6 forecast forced the Senior Block Party into Russell Hall, but it showed no loss of spirit as a result – 276 fourth-year students took part.
As they marked their last brush with Traditions Week, as well as their final month as undergraduate students, the Highlander seniors enjoyed crafts, making balloon hats and writing “Thank You” notes to campus individuals that impacted their time at Radford.
They picked up their legacy stoles and class gift philanthropy cords, as well as the ceremonial key that signifies their alumni status.
A popcorn machine provided fresh snacks, and President Bret Danilowicz, accompanied by his dog Bainne, stopped in to greet the departing class and to say farewell.
Seniors also found the supplies and spare time to customize, bedazzle, inscribe and generally decorate their mortar boards.
Some dressed them up with honeycombs and flowers, others with jewelry and stickers related to their studies. Many included personalized messages – one gave a nod to “Friends” with the words “The One Where I Graduate,” while another announced, “I Almost Gave Up, But I Remembered Who Was Watching.”
One more declared a motto that offered sage advice to all seniors: “Keep Moving Forward.”
Counting students, guests and visitors, more than 450 people participated in the Senior Block Party, which was spearheaded by the student alumni organization, the RU Ambassadors, and numerous campus departments.
The following day, April 7, Radford University Carilion’s Traditions Week event, the RUC Spring Fling, was also relocated indoors due to impending rain. One organizer estimated that at least 125 students attended the celebration held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at RUC’s facility at Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital.
While there wasn’t room for outsized recreations, students were able to paint rocks, make friendship bracelets and fill small terra cotta pots with soil and seeds to start their own plants.
“It’s an opportunity for students to grow something, kind of like what they’re doing now with their studies,” said Jessica Twiest, associate director for Student Involvement and the Center for Opportunity and Social Mobility.
Twiest helped the fledgling healthcare professionals plant the seeds they selected, either flowers, like marigolds and forget-me-nots, or such vegetables as peas, cucumbers and squash.
“With this one, I could go to the grocery store less,” said Salem, Virginia, nursing junior Nathan Watt as he pondered the vegetable seeds before casting an eye toward the floral options. “But these will make my room smell nicer.”
Ultimately, he chose to go with a sunflower.
“Exams are around the corner, and this is a nice break,” said Kailee Keen, a junior and a respiratory therapy major from Richlands, Virginia, who also selected a sunflower.
A Spring Fling poster board dedicated to students’ words of wisdom also shared insights: “Work with your professor. They want you to succeed!” “Do the things that scare you!” and “Go to class; you’re paying for it!”
Traditions Week 2023 drew to a close with a performance at the Dedmon Center by Chicago-based hip-hop artist G Herbo – whose recent videos include “Him” and “It’s Something In Me” – with Aux Cord Wars as the opening act. Just over 1,200 students, staff and faculty attended the show, and a charter bus was available to ferry RUC students from Roanoke to the Radford venue and back.
“It was a really phenomenal experience, and we’re so proud to host this special opportunity for our students,” Associate Vice President for Student Life Tricia Smith said of this year’s chain of events. “This place creates and nurtures a special connection for students, and Traditions Week has become a highly anticipated and beloved campus series.”
Neil Harvey for Radford University