Archivist’s Angle: Grad Alley and other School’s Out Celebrations
May 22, 2017
Emily Rose Johnson (GSAS ’18)
For the past 21 years, on the eve of Commencement, NYU has welcomed graduates and their families for an evening of entertainment in celebration of their great accomplishments. “Grad Alley” itself only began in 1996, but NYU has a long history of throwing year-end celebrations. In addition to a variety of traditions open to students of all classes—dances, dinners, parties for clubs and societies—many schools, colleges, and departments of the University have been celebrating with their graduating students for decades.
In 1935, Washington Square College (now the College of Arts and Science) held a dinner for senior women, and the School of Education held a “Freshmen Farewell Dance for Seniors.” Fifteen years later, the Calendar of Events listed an “Annual Senior Tea” hosted by the Alumnae Club, a senior prom by the College of Dentistry, and a day cruise on the Hudson River by the School of Education. Even earlier, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, annual Class Days were an amalgamation of oration, ceremony, and satire.
It was in the 1980s that NYU, with only one central campus at Washington Square, began a dedicated series of Senior Week celebrations. In 1987, the events ranged from an evening at a nightclub, to a formal dance and a clambake. In 1991 the University threw an All-University Cookout and a Circle Line Cruise, both on the eve of graduation.
Finally, in 1996, the University established the tradition that continues to this day. The street fair spanning several campus blocks, graduates and their families can take photos with a costumed Statue of Liberty, view and participate in student talent performances, dance, eat, and congratulate their classmates. Grad Alley is constantly adapting for the times and technology; Today, social media plays an integral role in documenting and sharing the Grad Alley experience.