If we took ourselves back to any point in our history, former UChicago President Zimmer remarked in a convocation address, “we would know unmistakably that we were at the University of Chicago.” This sense of distinctive identity is formed in part by the traditions we carry on, from solemn traditions like the Core curriculum and a commitment to open inquiry to even more solemn traditions like $1 Milkshake Wednesdays.
Traditions and Superstitions
The phoenix, a mythical bird that is reborn from its own ashes, is the official mascot of UChicago’s athletic teams and featured on the University seal. The choice of the phoenix references the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the subsequent "rebirth" of the city out of the ashes. It was also chosen, presumably, because it looks neat.
Reynolds Club Seal
Rumor has it that if you step on the gold seal on the floor of the Reynolds Club, you will not graduate in four years. But hey, there's always a chance that means you'll graduate in three.
Before the University held its first classes in 1892, the Board of Trustees selected yellow as the school color. By 1894, however, Chicago’s legendary football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg believed that a change was needed. “The yellow ran, soiled easily, and had a regrettable symbolism which our opponents might not be above commenting upon,” Stagg wrote in Touchdown!, his autobiography. Recognizing a change was needed, students and faculty organized that same year and chose maroon to become UChicago’s new official color. It stuck.
Dollar Shake Days
Every Wednesday, students enjoy one-dollar milkshakes at the Reynolds Club student center, which make for the perfect mid-week snack break.
UChicago's annual Scavenger Hunt is a tradition so big it can't be confined to campus. After an electrifying midnight list release party, teams have four days to construct, invent, perform, puzzle out, and complete over 300 items items on the list, many seemingly impossible tasks. Some of the items are part a road trip that takes participants up to a thousand miles from Chicago. Others are part of the Scav Olympics, a series of wacky mini-competitions. And the rest of the list includes items like turning a city bus into a bowling alley, building a stationary-bicycle-powered microwave that can fully cook a HotPocket, falsely shouting "theater!" in a firehouse, and constructing a periodic coffee table of elements.
Kuviasungnerk, an Icelandic word that means “happy times,” and kangeiko, a Japanese word that means “calisthenics,” join together for a week-long festival in January organized by the students of the Council on University Programming. Hundreds of students wake up at 5 a.m. every day to learn how to row crew, dance Zumba, and perform sun salutations. On the final day, students walk to Promontory Point and do their sun salutations as the sun rises over Lake Michigan. Afternoon festivities include ice skating, s’mores, and fireside chats with faculty. The festival ends with the Polar Bear Run, a chilly race across the quads.
During the day, the Main Quad becomes a carnival ground with free food, bands, a bouncy castle, and much more, organized by the student-run Council on University Programming. In the evening, the student-run Major Activities Board brings a lineup of big music acts for an outdoor concert in Hutch Courtyard.
Houses generally two weekly study breaks as a way to bring Housemates together for snacks and conversation. House members take turns preparing recipes of their choice. Student organizations will also often host study breaks with free food to interest peers in getting involved.
One of the most active film societies in the country, Doc Films screens at least one movie almost every night. Aside from the weekday film series and the weekend second-run blockbusters, the free sneak previews of new releases are not to be missed, especially as the actors or directors will sometimes show up to field questions.
University Symphony Orchestra’s Halloween Concert
At the first University Symphony Orchestra concert of the year, the musicians perform in Halloween costumes. The symphony, as well as the other performance ensembles, plays throughout the year.
George E. Kent Lecture
The Organization of Black Students (OBS) organizes the annual George E. Kent Lecture as part of Black History Month in February, bringing prominent social and intellectual figures to campus to share their perspective. This year's lecture will take place on May 20th at 6 PM CDT.
A number of student organizations, such as the Chinese Undergraduate Students Association, South Asian Student Association, the African and Caribbean Students Association, and the Korean Student Organization, put on lavish dinners and shows every spring.
Festival of the Arts (FOTA)
FOTA is a student-run organization that encourages and funds artistic endeavors across the University of Chicago, bringing a life of the arts to campus. FOTA culminates in a week-long festival that provides funding and exhibition space to student artists for original, and often striking, projects.