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Classes of 2013, 1963 celebrate a tradition (nearly) as old as Madison
By James Irwin ('06)
Classes of 2013 and 1963 celebrate a tradition.
JMU's oldest ritual doesn't involve sneaking into underground tunnels or swimming across lakes. Madison's longest-standing tradition is a bit more formal, and nearly as old as the university itself.
In the spring of 1912, on the night before commencement, the newest graduates of the State Normal & Industrial School for Women were inducted into the Alumnae Association at a ceremonial banquet. More than 100 years and 110,000 Dukes later, that act of inducting new graduates into the alumni community continues in a candle lighting ceremony on the last day of classes.
On April 26, more than 500 students gathered at Alumni Centennial Park to celebrate their induction into the JMU Alumni Association. They were joined by nearly 30 members of the Madison College class of 1963 who had returned to campus for their 50th reunion.
Larry Caudle ('82), president-elect of the JMU Alumni Association, presided over the ceremony.
A "fabulous" reunion
In addition to their participation in the Alumni Candle Lighting Ceremony, members of the Madison College class of 1963 enjoyed a busy weekend back on campus in celebration of their 50th reunion.
More than 200 alumni and guests returned to campus April 26-28. Reunion attendees from the classes of 1948, 1953 and 1958 joined the Bluestone Society induction class of 1963 for a festive weekend that included tours of the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts, Wayland Hall and Carrier Library Special Collections, a performance from the Madison Singers and a presentation from JMU students on Madison's Alternative Break program.
"The reunion was just fabulous—meaningful, inspirational and fun," said Betty Reid Coghill Somloi ('63), co-chair of the Class of 1963 50th reunion committee. "I think, especially for alumni who have not been back recently, they were very impressed with all that has occurred here."
The Class of 1963 presented a check to the university in the amount of $27,639.63. Somloi and her classmates were inducted into the Bluestone Society on Saturday, April 27, in a ceremony featuring a keynote address from JMU President Jonathan Alger and hosted by JMU Alumni Association President Jamie Jones Miller ('99).
"Almost 90% of the graduates in 1963 went on to be teachers, so the growth has been tremendous—the fact there is an engineering school just blew me away," Somloi said. "My husband is an engineer and said 'JMU, wait, Madison College has an engineering school?!' JMU has become such a first-class university that it makes me really proud to have been a part of the institution."
"Tonight's event has ties to Madison's earliest days," Caudle said. "And it is my hope that you will continue to foster your relationship with Madison and remain an active member of the university community."
Citing ways graduates help shape Madison's future as volunteers, advocates and donors, Caudle and senior class president Meredith Wood ('13) provided a roadmap for alumni involvement.
"There are endless ways to stay involved in the Madison community," Wood said during her speech. "Things such as subscribing to Madison Update, joining your local alumni chapter, giving back to JMU, or simply visiting for Homecoming weekend can keep you tied into the place we are so fortunate to have experienced."
Fifty years of Madison brought together
Caudle and Wood received cheers during their remarks, but one of the loudest ovations occurred just before the lighting of the candles when Caudle invited Jo Ann Bogan Smith ('63), co-chair of the Class of 1963 50th reunion committee, to the podium.
Smith congratulated the Class of 2013, spoke of the friendships she and her classmates have maintained since their graduation and of the strong connection they have with Madison. She also provided a little inside knowledge about one of JMU's campus features.
"I want you to know that, yes, those tunnels do exist," she said, "because we used them!"
Caudle, Smith and Wood lit the first candles, passing the flame to 2013 and 1963 graduates alike. The base flame emitted from the Alumni Association's Bluestone Candle, used every year to induct Madison College graduates into the Bluestone Society on the occurrence of their 50th reunion.
"I thought there was incredible energy that night, you could really feel it," Betty Reid Coghill Somloi ('63), Smith's co-chair, said following the event. "I think the graduating class appreciated our class being there to share the light of the Alumni Association with them. Even with 20,000 students today, [Madison] is still a close-knit community, which is what we had 50 years ago."
Wrapped in all the symbolism, Somloi said, was a tangible connection between the classes—one Caudle emphasized as candlelight spread throughout Alumni Centennial Park, illuminating a brisk night on campus.
"These two classes, which span 50 years of JMU's rich heritage, will forever be linked by tonight's induction ceremony," Caudle said.
Attendees joined together in the singing of the Alma Mater, officially inducting the Class of 2013 into the JMU Alumni Association and completing the ceremony, but not before Caudle offered a final reminder about the lifelong connection of JMU graduates.
"You are Dukes from day one, and you are alumni for life," he said. "And because of that, your Madison Experience can last forever."