Retrospective

Writer: 
June 1, 2007
Strike up the band: observing the lowering of the class flag

Strike up the band: observing the lowering of the class flag. Duke University Archives

For generations Trinity College and Duke University students celebrated the end of the academic year by lowering the class flag at sunset on the Wednesday before commencement. This tradition was replaced by a reception for graduating students in 1975, but in 2004, President Nannerl Keohane revived it for her final commencement. In her baccalaureate speech the day before graduation, Keohane said:

"The Trinity College Class of 1904 established the precedent of lowering a flag at the sounding of Trinity's traditional 'sunset bell' on their last day, when every one of the twenty-eight 'retiring seniors' (two women and twenty-six men) paused with uncovered heads.... I hope all of you, along with all your families and associated friends and relations who have gathered to celebrate this weekend with you will come to the Saturday afternoon reception on the East Duke Lawn that honors the graduating classes.

"At the reception, I encourage you to be ready for a brief nostalgic ceremony. Precisely at 5:30, the background music from the Duke Wind Ensemble will cease for a moment, an officer will lower the Duke flag from the pole in front of the White Lecture Hall, and the Trinity College Bell will ring out an end to the day and a new beginning for the Class of 2004."

Members of the Class of 1899 would have appreciated Keohane's remarks. As their class gift, they gave Trinity campus the flagpole that was used to launch the tradition in 1904. D.W. Newsom, part of that Class of 1899, wrote a song that was sung at the lowering of the flag. The last stanza reads:

Long live our Mother brave,
Long may Old Glory wave o'er Trinity!
Truth, honor, faith, and love
Ne'er from thy sons shall move,—
Steadfast as heaven above
To Trinity.