by Jose Brambila
photography by Michael Savall
Traditions, 125 years of them, are what make the University of La Verne not just unique but also great. Students continually join and are shaped by this unique University family, but what immortalizes an institution and gives it life are the memories and emotions that come from its halls. Devorah Lieberman, University of La Verne president; Al Clark, professor of humanities; Rex Huigens, former football coach and professor of kinesiology emeritus; Alexis Coria, La Verne senior and Associated Students of University of La Verne president; Stephen Morgan, former University president and professor of educational management; and Marlin Heckman, professor and librarian emeritus, each share their favorites.
President Lieberman holds three favorite traditions: (1) “The Alma Mater that was written decades ago. If you read the alma mater closely, it talks about being committed to the University of La Verne, being committed to an institution that is dedicated to peace and justice and commitment to one another. That is what the whole alma mater is about. So now at every football game we sing the alma mater, at convocation we sing the alma mater, at commencement we sing the alma mater.”
(2) “Every year, we have convocation at the beginning of the year where we ring the spirit bell, and it brings everybody together. At the convocation, we sing the alma mater, we recognize a faculty member who is beloved by the students, and this faculty member gives a talk. It is a way to bring everybody together to start the year off together.”
(3) “The day before commencement we go to the La Verne Church of the Brethren for baccalaureate services. Everybody gathers at the Church, and we have an outside speaker address all the graduating students and their parents. They talk about the values of the institution. It is a beautiful tradition. We come back from the event, and at Sneaky Park the students touch the paw of the leopard and touch the book of knowledge. That sends you out into the world remembering your alma mater and the book of knowledge.
“One of the reasons I came to the University was because at the time it was almost 120 years old, and at the time I fell in love with the traditions that were already here. As the new president, I wanted to make sure that we maintained the soul of the University. Traditions that an institution have reflect their core and their soul. That is one of the reasons I love traditions because they are a reflection of the culture in the University. For me, when I say tradition, it is things that bring us back to the core of who we are. For me, some of the traditions are at our core. Traditions make a culture, an organization, a religion, a country what it is.”
Al Clark tells of three of his favorite traditions: (1) “Baccalaureate. It is a time when many faculty who appreciate La Verne come together. There is always a fine speaker, so those things go together. Today, there are not a lot of students who come, which means we are able to interact with the students who do come. Baccalaureate goes back to the very beginning and ties into the University’s values as well as saying goodbye to the students when they leave.”
(2) “Commencement is a time that I particularly like because it ties back in with baccalaureate, which includes all students. Commencement today includes only a group of students, because it is divided into multiple ceremonies. I actually look back to the days when we only had one commencement, and we now have six. When we had one commencement, we saw everybody. Commencement is a time for students to share their success story. Here are the people we knew when they started. They spent their time here and completed the requirements. We saw how they progressed and learned from the time they were here.”
(3) “Beginning of the semester activities, which have changed. Once upon a time there was a lot of freshman hazing. I didn’t see a lot of that, but it certainly was here. Then there was what we called freshman camp. Probably more than anything else, the students of those years remember their camp experience, because they came in at the very beginning, and they all went to the mountains. They all stayed overnight so it was a real bonding activity. Many of them (because I’m doing oral history) fondly remember this 20 to 30 years later.
“The traditions I most appreciate come at the end and then the beginning of the school year. They mark the excitement of the newness of the people who are coming here to learn, and they mark the maturity of the people who have spent their time here and learned who they were because it is a growing process. They learned material which we helped teach them because that is part of the process. They go out to the world ready to be good citizens, ready to contribute to their communities, ready to earn a living and a lifetime and start a family and be part of the American dream, or at least the dream that they had.”
(1) “I was in athletics, and I played three sports going through school. Much of my extracurricular time was spent in athletics. Traditions actually change a little bit with people as they go through life, and what they remember as they go through life. I think the college experience for a student is a tradition. It’s a very short period of time, and it may seem like forever—especially by your sophomore year you feel like you’re going to be here forever. I think those four years end up being their tradition, and what they remember. I think more than anything else the thing that people remember about the University are the people that they deal with. It could be fellow classmates, professors, coaches, choir directors, but that’s what they remember, and that’s what I remember. It isn’t the physical institution; it’s the people who influenced me.”
(2 ) “When I became a faculty member and a coach, it’s what I remember in dealing with the students in a day-to-day operation, whether it be on the football field or in the classroom. That’s one of things I really value even though it about wore me out. I taught 10-13 years even when I was a football coach. I was the head golf coach at the time and the assistant director of athletics. I wouldn’t give any of that up because I got to be with a lot of different students, rather than just the football players or my classroom students. I don’t think I would’ve traded any of that.”
(3) “Going up to the “L” is one of my favorite traditions, but it’s been fazed out. In the last Voice Magazine there was a [story and] picture about the “L.” Every year, we would go up and clean it all up. We would make it look really good. Unfortunately, the forest service doesn’t let you go up there anymore. Each group of students go through this and establish their own traditions. I can’t really put my finger on this is a tradition and this isn’t; they’re all traditions, and that’s what makes La Verne, La Verne.
(1) “I definitely love homecoming. It is super fun in general. At homecoming, you realize that this is a community. Homecoming this year was really amazing; in all my years here I never thought that I would be on homecoming court, and I was. It was kind of fairytale-like—if I’m being cliché—putting on a gown and dress to walk amongst my peers and feeling so loved. For it being my last homecoming, it was a great goodbye. I love homecoming because it unites everybody—alumni, prospective students, of course our friends and current students. We walk, hug, chant and are happy with each other. I wish there were more events like this throughout the year.”
(2) “I also love the holiday extravaganza. They do it every year, and it is presented by the Campus Activities Board. It celebrates all types of holidays and traditions from different cultures, and I really appreciate that. Everyone comes together, and the food is pretty great. We get a little bit of every culture, and you begin to feel like the actual holidays are here.”
(3) “Another tradition that I really like is the philanthropy [project] of cystic fibrosis that they do at Iota Delta. It is my favorite because they do a “jumpathon,” and it brings out a bunch of people from the community where they raise money for children who have cystic fibrosis. It’s held behind the lawn, and they have a huge jumper. People think that we are jumping for cystic fibrosis when in fact we are not. We asked people to come jump with us for about 15 minutes to show how tiring it is. That way, you can imagine how tiring it must be for someone with cystic fibrosis who must deal with the affliction on a daily basis. That’s why I really love this event; it’s not just about raising money, but bringing awareness and for a few seconds feeling what it might be like to have cystic fibrosis. We have such a small community; it makes it more intimate and meaningful. Our location also brings in members of the community, as well, to truly make this a college town.”
(1) “The painting of the Rock is one. When I was a student, we didn’t paint the rock. The rock was always green, and it had orange letters on it. At that time, we weren’t a university yet; we were still La Verne College. It always had LVC on it. The rock hasn’t always been where it is. It used to be by the dining hall, and the rock used to be much smaller. Our rivals, the Claremont Colleges, and some of the other schools from our athletic conference, used to steal the rock. In the early 1960s, a group of students said we don’t want the rock to get stolen again. They went up [to the mountains] and got a huge boulder and about two-thirds of the rock in front of Founders Hall is underground, so it can’t be stolen. It was later when I was on the staff that students started painting the rock on a regular basis with various messages. I wish that I had photographed all the different versions of the rock, but I think that is a unique tradition to La Verne.”
(2) “I think another tradition would be the values of the institution. I found that the faculty really care about their students. We had small classes, and faculty knew us by name. If we saw them on campus out of class, they could call us by name. They took a real interest in not only what we did in the class, but outside the class as well. I think that’s very valuable. The other thing I think is valuable about La Verne is the comradery of the alumni; the common affiliation they have. You come back years later like I have, and there is still a connection with the students; there is connection with the faculty and the alumni.
“Even though it has grown a lot since I was here, there is still a connectivity that I think is unique to La Verne and its values. As you come in the door, whether you are a faculty member or student, we talk about the value of community, and we’ve become a very diverse community. Yet, we are still a community. There has always been an emphasis on building a community out of the people we had here, and I think that’s continued even though we have a much larger and diverse population. There is still an emphasis on, ‘We need to be a community; we need to come together with what bonds us in common and appreciate our differences.’”
(3) “Another great tradition is the service orientation. The University has always emphasized that people should serve their communities, the world, their professions, and we see that with our faculty and staff, also with the service requirement for students. Even before there was a requirement, students were interested in service, and it started with service to the University. We used to have a build La Verne Day where we all actually cleaned up the campus on a day each year. I think the emphasis on service is a tradition that has been important to La Verne.”
“La Verne College in the 1950s did not observe some national holidays such as Labor Day or Memorial Day, but we did have four all-school holidays: Beach Day; L Day; Snow Day and Clean-up Day. Beach Day was usually in early October when students and faculty enjoyed a day at the beach including games and a meal. L Day included driving as far up the mountain as possible and then hiking across the ridge and climbing down the mountain to the letter L, which had been placed there by a class in the 1920s. Once there, our job was to clean away brush and debris so that the “L” could be seen from the valley. The Forest Service has not permitted access to the L since the 1980s. Snow Day was in January or February, but some years there was no snow. Clean-up Day was in the late Spring and involved many jobs around the campus including washing all of the windows of Founders Hall. La Verne College in the mid-50s had a student body of around 320 students, and most us of lived on campus. These all-school holidays were an opportunity for us to participate in group activities, and they carry special memories to this day.”