On a drizzly spring morning in the middle of campus, Winona State University Director of Archives Russ Dennison stood near a 275-pound, cast-iron bell secured on a wooden platform.
Holding a faded 1969 purple cap, known as a beanie, Dennison told a small group that new students wearing the beanie was just one of the traditions WSU has had in its history.
“And now we’re starting a new tradition,” he said as he looked over to the bell, fashioned with a purple rope for ringing.
The 40-inch tall bell, known now as the Commencement Bell, arrived late April from Michigan in time for this Friday’s graduates to partake in a new tradition. From here on out every graduate who switches their tassel to signify the completion of their degree will have the opportunity to announce their accomplishment by ringing the bell. On Monday, Dennison and others had gathered to hear the very first ring – an honor given to Dennison as one of the longest standing current faculty members and the likely most knowledgeable person of WSU’s traditions and history.
Standing stoically next to the Commencement Bell, Dennison wrapped his hand around the rope and pulled, letting out three loud rings that echoed through the air.
President Scott Olson, an enthusiast for meaningful traditions, said the idea for the Commencement Bell was explored through the Student Experience Committee as a way to start a special new tradition for students – especially for those who had just gone through a pandemic.
“It’s an exciting new tradition that will happen henceforth to proclaim their achievement,” Olson said.
And from Dennison’s perspective, it will certainly proclaim it with vigor.
“That’s very loud up close,” Dennison said with a laugh.