About Penn

At the University of Pennsylvania, you'll find a historic, Ivy League school with highly selective admissions and a history of innovation in interdisciplinary education and scholarship. You'll also find a picturesque campus amidst a dynamic city and a world-class research institution.

 

Penn Traditions

Alumni Weekend

Alumni Weekend brings together Penn's most enduring traditions with the innovative ideas of its leading scholars and alumni. Whether you are a young alum, a member of the Old Guard, or somewhere in between, this annual celebration in May provides a perfect opportunity to pursue intellectual and cultural interests while reconnecting with friends. The traditional Parade of Classes is a perennial favorite while new tours, receptions, and parties are offered each year for Penn alumni and their families to enjoy.

The Button

Created by Claes Oldenberg and installed in front of Van Pelt Library in 1981, the Button is 16 feet in diameter, weighs 5,000 pounds, and is cast in reinforced aluminum. Oldenberg once told The Philadelphia Inquirer that "the Split represents the Schuylkill. It divides the button into four parts—for William Penn's original Philadelphia squares."

Civic Responsibility

Penn students are known for their involvement in community service and civic responsibility. The Civic House is the University of Pennsylvania's hub for student-led community service and social advocacy work, promoting connections with the West Philadelphia community and beyond. Through education, community connections, and other resources, Civic House prepares students for responsible and effective civic engagement.

Coat of Arms

Adopted in 1933, the Penn coat of arms is a combination of the Penn and Franklin families' arms. It combines the school colors, two books to represent academia, three plates from the Penn arms, and a dolphin from the Franklin arms. The coat of arms also includes the University's motto - Leges Sine Moribus Vanae, or, "laws are meaningless without morals," quoted from Horace's "Third Ode."

Commencement

In Penn's early Commencement ceremonies, graduating students' orations filled the day. Then, during the Colonial period, the College's ties to the Church of England and the Penn family led to an increase in prayers and sermons. By 1910, the student orators were taken from the program entirely, making way for more prominent honorary degree recipients. Honorary degree recipients have included UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, U2 lead singer Bono, and hotel guru Steve Wynn.

Convocation

Freshmen are formally welcomed to Penn during the Convocation ceremony. The entire freshman class marches together, just as it does during Commencement. Speakers include the President, Provost, Penn Alumni President, Dean of Admissions, and Chaplain, and several student groups perform musical selections. Many freshmen remember Convocation fondly as a tradition shared with their class, a "bookend" for their Penn experience that mirrors Commencement, and the first of many events with free food.

The First University

The University of Pennsylvania has the distinction of being the first university in the United States. "University" is defined as an institution of higher education that consists of more than one faculty. In 1779, Penn was officially renamed to reflect its status as a university, rather than a college. Harvard, established in 1636, is America's first college, a claim often confused with Penn's.

Franklin Field

Franklin Field is the oldest two-tiered stadium in the country, with a seating capacity of 52,598. Originally opened in 1895 for the first running of the Penn Relays, the stadium was rebuilt in 1922. It has been the site of the nation's first scoreboard, the first football radio broadcast, the first football telecast, and Vince Lombardi's only NFL playoff loss. The field has also been the home of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Homecoming

For two days in the fall, Homecoming provides the opportunity to savor everything Penn and a chance to cheer on the Quakers at Franklin Field. Homecoming enables students and alumni to reconnect with Penn and with each other. Penn's football team was the first in the United States to use numbers on its jerseys, and Penn played in the first nationally televised football game.  The Heisman Memorial Trophy, college football’s most prestigious award, was named for John Heisman, a Penn Law grad who invented the forward pass and the center snap and coached Penn’s football team from 1920 to 1922.

Ivy Day

In 1873, the first graduating class on Penn's West Philadelphia campus established Ivy Day as a new tradition set aside for the senior class. As a vine was planted and an invocation pronounced, ivy became a lasting symbol for each year's graduating class. On the first Ivy Day, a twig of ivy was imported from Kenilworth Castle in Scotland and was planted on the facade of College Hall.  Since then, every graduating class has placed an Ivy Day stone somewhere on campus. From 1926 until 1961, each class placed two stones—one for men and one for women.  Each class's stone is unveiled during a ceremony, held a few days before Commencement, in which a sprig of ivy is planted.

The Love Statue

The Love Statue graces the triangular grounds of Blanche Levy Park on 36th and Locust Walk. This painted aluminum sculpture, installed in 1998, is part of the iconic "Love" series by pop artist Robert Indiana. This campus attraction is a larger version of the original, which is located downtown in John F. Kennedy Plaza.

Penn Relays

Established in 1895, The Penn Relays represent the largest amateur track meet and oldest organized relay competition in the United States. The event is held every April for three days at Franklin Field. The Relays bring together the best track and field athletes from high schools and colleges worldwide, in addition to races on Saturday with Olympic athletes. An important event to the community, the Relays bring in over 100,000 spectators each year.

Penn Songs

"The Red and the Blue" is sung at the end of many Penn events. It was written in 1896 and places the origins of Penn's colors as a combination of those of the best of her rivals. Arm motions accompany the song's refrain. Click here (http://www.dolphin.upenn.edu/pennband/lyrics.html) to learn the verses.

Princeton Rivalry

A principal factor that led to the reshaping of Penn's history was the growing rivalry with Princeton, which was played out on the football field, in the design of the campus, and in aspects of campus life from rituals to songs. The rivalry between basketball teams is so intense that a large scoreboard, centered in the Palestra, is dedicated to keeping track of the schools' all-time record against each other.

The Quakers

Penn's sports teams are nicknamed the Quakers after the religion adopted by William Penn, who established Pennsylvania as a Quaker colony. Today, we see the Quakers at Penn football and basketball games. In the 1920s, a proposal was made to change the Quaker mascot to the Penguin, but the students found the animal was too weak as a representative.

Toast

Penn fans throw toast onto Franklin Field after the third quarter of every home football game. The toast-throwing tradition was in response to the line "Here's a toast to dear old Penn" in the school song "Drink a Highball." The act of throwing toast was adopted after alcohol was banned from the stadium in the 1970s. In a good season, 20,000 to 30,000 pieces of toast are thrown per game!

 

University Websites About Penn Traditions

  • Penn Traditions - The Penn Traditions program aims to foster a sense of pride in Penn's history and traditions through a variety of student events. Look for info about Penn Traditions events during New Student Orientation in your summer mailing!
  • Traditions Archives - The University Archives have put together a number of exhibits of University traditions, both past and present.
  • University Archives - The University Archives main page, which has a multitude of exhibits about the history of Penn.