Scripps College Traditions

Scripps College has a long history of unique traditions. Here are a few of our most notable traditions, many of which continue today:

La Semeuse

La SemeuseThe seal of Scripps College, designed by sculptor Lee Lawrie, depicts La Semeuse—she who sows. The image of the sower of “the good seed of thought, of action, of life” was chosen by the faculty in the 1927-28 academic year. They also selected the College motto, Incipit Vita Nova—”here beginneth the new life.” The esteemed Professor Hartley Burr Alexander was largely responsible for the seal’s image and the motto. Before he arrived on campus, he suggested Incipit Vita Nova, the first words of Dante’s New Life.

It seems to me that what college ought to do is to begin a new life in a very real sense, and perhaps the motto would have a double significance for Scripps in indicating not only the new life begun for each student, but also the new life which we hope may be begun from a renewed vitality in education [evidenced in the founding of this college for women].

Thy Many Gifts

Strong in the strength of all, venturing together,
Searching, exploring the life of the mind.
Cloudless and blue above, or somber the weather,
Day follows day, all things good well-combined.
May life be free and full, life be unencumbered,
Vision and growth through the years may it hold.
Thy many gifts to us, thy benefits unnumbered
May we return, Alma Mater, threefold.

—Words and music by Isabel Fothergill Smith

In the early years of Scripps College, a “Music Convo” was held each fall at which the four classes and residence halls each presented original songs in a high spirit of competition. At the “Convo” of 1932, Thy Many Gifts was presented by a self-appointed trio consisting of Isabel (Dean) Smith, who wrote the words and music in three parts, and two faculty wives, Mrs. Paul Havens and Mrs. John W. Darr. The song became and has remained the Scripps College Alma Mater. It was later revised in the 1960s when Bill Blanchard, then organist for the Pomona College faculty, added a fourth part to the work and made a minor change in notation.

Graffiti Wall

In spring of 1931, the first graduating class signed Graffiti Wall. Located between Toll Hall and Browning Hall, this area provides a place for the graduating class to create an artistic logo or image unique to them and sign each of their names. It is a visual reminder of Scripps’ history and reflects the changing tastes and interests of past years.


A relatively young tradition, matriculation began in 1990 with the arrival of President Nancy Bekavac. The key moment in the Matriculation Ceremony occurs in the first few days of new student orientation, when first-years process through the Ella Strong Denison Library East Door. This door remains locked on all other days of the year save commencement, when graduating seniors exit through this same door, signifying the beginning of commencement and the end of their educational journey at Scripps.

Academic Regalia

The Commencement Procession is one of the few remaining occasions for which the faculty of American colleges and universities still wear formal regalia. The colorful and distinctive garb has its origin in the 12th and 13th centuries, during the High Middle Ages, when the university itself came into being and grew up in the shadow of the church. The knowledge disseminated by early universities was theological or ecclesiastical, with most scholars and pupils clerks, i.e., clerics or aspiring clerics. The cap, gown, and hood grew out of the clerical dress of that period.

Participants in the Scripps College Commencement reflect the colors, chevrons, velvets, and wools of diverse degrees earned here and abroad. Those in the audience will observe, anlong others, the deep blue/black velvet robe and a hood of Yale University, the crimson and black of Harvard University, black with orange velvet of Princeton, light maroon of the University of British Columbia, yellow trimmed in ermine from the Sorbonne, among other colorful robes representing a variety of leading universities.

Most gowns reflect degrees earned in the United States and are prescribed by a code first adopted by the American Council of Education in 1932 and revised in 1959. According to this form, the bachelor’s gown is plain with long pointed sleeves, the master’s gown is slightly fuller in cut and has long oblong sleeves open at the wrist with an arc cut in the front, and the doctor’s gown is still fuller with bell-shaped sleeves. It is faced down the front with black velvet and has three bars of black velvet on the sleeve, although the velvet and bars may be in the color representing the bearer’s academic field, as in the British system.

Hoods are the most distinctive part of the American academic dress.The exterior of most hoods is black, with its length three feet for the bachelor’s degree, three and onehalf feet for the master’s degree, and four feet for the doctor’s degree. Hoods are lined with the official colors of the college or university conferring the degree, and the trimming is velvet, reflecting the color of the bearer’s academic field.

For all academic purposes, including trimming of the doctor’s gown and edging of hoods, the color indicating the Fields of Learning are:

  • White: Art, Letters, Humanities;
  • Copper: Economics;
  • Light Blue: Education;
  • Brown: Fine Arts;
  • Green: Medicine
  • Pink: Music;
  • Dark Blue: Philosophy;
  • Sage Green: Physical Education
  • Golden Yellow: Science;
  • Scarlet: Theology

Scripps College is one of the few undergraduate institutions with distinctive academic regalia. The sage green robe reflcts the school’s colors; the white and brown trimming on the hood indicates the college’s historic curricular strengths in the arts, letters, humanities. and fine arts.

Afternoon Tea

Weekly Tea since 1931The tradition of Afternoon Tea began in 1931 and continues today. The 1932 edition of the La Semeuse yearbook states, “Altogether the tea custom is a pleasant one, with the attractions of refreshments, relaxation and interesting conversation.” Scripps’ popular Afternoon Tea takes place every Wednesday afternoon during the academic year, and increasingly attracts students, faculty, staff, and visitors from all the colleges.

Candlelight Dinners

Begun on September 20, 1927 (the first night of the first year for the first class of Scripps) in Toll Hall, subsequent Candlelight Dinners were held in each hall with students and faculty and residence staff in attendance. The goal of the dinners was to promote a sense of family within the halls—unity represented in the single candle centerpiece.

The tradition fell away in the 60s, but was re-instituted on a lesser scale in 2001 after the Malott Commons opened. Candlelight Dinners are now held four times a year, and are open to all students from the Scripps community.

Medieval Dinner

In 1929, Grace Scripps Clark Hall presented the first annual Medieval Dinner. Held in the baronial dining room, the holiday event is the oldest and most lasting of the residence hall traditions — although the form today has been altered to a community dinner and dance held under tents on the lawn outside Denison Library.

May Fete

Also begun in 1929, Scripps’ May Fete continued until the late 1960s. During this day-long festival, first-year and sophomore classes were responsible for entertaining the rest of the school: the first-year class planned and performed a pageant around a secret theme, which the sophomores then parodied.