Rites of spring

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RIT’s Spring Weekend parade, 1964.

RIT’s Spring Weekend began at the downtown campus in the 1950s and grew to be one of the largest and most important social affairs of the year for students. Staged by students, hundreds were involved in planning the weekend, with others taking part in the skits and carnival. One of the biggest events of the weekend featured Rose Bowl-sized floats and a parade through downtown Rochester, complete with police barricades controlling crowds. Over many weeks, students harnessed creative energy and ingenuity to fashion their floats from wood, paint and tissue paper, topping them with classmates wearing elaborate costumes. Many campus organizations took part, including Greek organizations, clubs and groups representing the residence halls. To inspire competition, awards were presented based on themes, originality, quality and durability of the floats.

Each year a different theme—such as The Gay Nineties, Caribbean Calypso and It’s a Child’s World—was chosen for the weekend. In 1964, the Hellenic Holiday parade kicked off the weekend with a number of floats, including one that featured a sword and military helmet large enough to house a pretty girl. Another was devoted to the myth of Sisyphus. The parade route carried it past the Times-Union building, Midtown Plaza and downtown Main Street. A carnival with booths followed the parade, along with a staging of student skits. The weekend rounded out with a picnic at the new campus and Saturday’s “Fountain of Olympus,” a formal dance at Rochester’s Midtown Plaza featuring the Les and Larry Elgart orchestra. During other years, nationally known acts such as Herbie Mann, Ray Charles and Billy May Band performed. The dance also featured the announcements of “Mr. Campus” and “Miss RIT,” representing the highest non-scholastic honors to be bestowed by fellow students.

Students understood that Spring Weekend would change once RIT moved to Henrietta. Nostalgia was evident in 1968. The theme for the weekend, Simply Sayonara, was chosen “to leave us all with a remembrance of our Old Campus, while introducing us to the New Campus.” Indeed, the event as staged while RIT was downtown essentially disappeared, and morphed into something different.

A spring celebration was still planned in Henrietta, but the scope of the event was altered. There was no longer a parade and the formal dance was gradually replaced by semi-formals, concerts and movies. Spring Week 1976 featured an Ugly Man on Campus fundraising contest, a foosball tournament, picnic, bike rally and several concerts. A balloon sculpture created by students was the highlight in 1986, along with juggling, aikido demonstrations and the chance to participate in the popular “Hands Across America” project that benefitted the hungry. Years later, spring celebrations incorporated fireworks displays. While students still enjoy this annual spring rite hosted by the College Activities Board, it’s safe to say the intensity of the event and intimacy of the old campus will never be replicated.