“I think it might be a little cliché, but it’s true: this is not how anyone expected this semester to go,” said Lauren Sorensen, thinking of her final term at UW–Madison. “Being with your friends, being on the Terrace with a pitcher of beer: all of those things that are integral to a Wisconsin experience have been taken away from us.”
Sorensen, who’s the president of the Class of 2020, joined fellow class officer Sonam Dolma, Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association (WFAA) vice president Jeff Wendorf, and former director of admissions Keith White to talk about UW traditions and what they mean to Badgers of all eras. The four spoke with WFAA chief alumni officer and alumni association executive director Sarah Schutt during The UW Now Livestream event that aired over YouTube on May 7.
Wendorf, who has worked with the UW’s alumni association for three decades, gave his view of the development and endurance of true traditions. “Tradition needs to be authentic and not contrived,” he said. “It needs to change with the times. It needs to have a home on campus or a group that nurtures, preserves, and honors those traditions.”
He described the origin and evolution of such venerable Badger basics as Sifting and Winnowing, the Wisconsin Idea, “On, Wisconsin,” “Jump Around,” and Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
White, who graduated 50 years ago during one of the UW’s most tumultuous times, spoke about the traditions that grew out of the Vietnam War era: student demonstrations and an anti-establishment sense of fun.
“While it’s been 50 years,” he said, “so many of the things that happened have affected our lives as we moved forward. So many of the things happening to our students today are going to affect their lives as they move forward.”
Sorensen and Dolma talked about the traditions that the Class of 2020 have missed as their final semester was dominated by coronavirus and social distancing. Both are working to give their classmates an online graduation ceremony that will help them feel connected to the UW and its alumni.
The four then took questions from viewers, who were curious about the demise of older traditions, such as the Bascom Hill Maypole of the early 20th century, Fasching celebrations, and the days when the university’s anatomy department was housed in Science Hall.
The UW Now Livestream is a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though originally planned as a series of events in cities across the United States, it is instead offered via YouTube and will continue through the spring. The next event will be May 12 and will feature a conversation with WFAA president and CEO Mike Knetter, economics professor Ananth Seshadri, investor Brad Tank MBA’82, and economics professor Noah Williams.