The University of Alabama

Standing on Tradition: Honors Week

Honors Week 2011 runs from Monday, April 4, to Friday, April 8. During that week hundreds of students will be inducted into more than 50 universitywide and divisional honor societies. Dozens of scholarship and award winners will be named, and outstanding faculty, staff and alumni will be recognized.

While academic achievement has always been a deciding criterion for induction into many honoraries, Honors Week is a time to applaud excellence in all forms, said Dr. Mark Nelson, vice provost and vice president for student affairs.

“Character, leadership, creativity and unselfish service to others are valued and recognized at UA, as is scholarship,” said Nelson.

“Honors Week is a time to recognize members of our community who exemplify those attributes.”

The descriptions of UA’s highest honors, the Premier Awards, and the standards honor societies look for in their inductees, bear out Nelson’s statement: terms such as excellence of character, service to humanity, integrity, leadership, scholarship, creativity and maturity appear repeatedly.

Honors Day has long fallen on a Friday in early spring. In recent decades (at least since the 1980s) the observance has been extended to the first full week of April. Each college and school, and sometimes an individual department within a school, recognizes its high achievers with celebrations ranging from receptions to convocations, from formal banquets to dinners and picnics.

Before there was an Honors Day or a Mound, however, another April event changed the face of the campus and ultimately led to the creation of the site most associated with Honors Day. On April 4, 1865, Union forces burned most of the campus, including Franklin Hall, a dormitory that stood on what is now the Quad.

During post-war rebuilding of campus, Franklin Hall bricks were salvaged to use in the Woods Quad buildings. Leftover bricks were raked together, covered with dirt and sod, and left undisturbed. For 40 years, grass grew over the old foundation and bricks, becoming the landmark now known as the Mound.

Around 1905 the Mound became the focal point of the April Honors Day observances, linking the present with a memento of the University’s distant past.

The tradition of using the site for the most important campuswide honors event continues to this day with the Tapping on the Mound ceremony, held on the afternoon of Honors Day. This ceremony is the time to induct members into the senior honoraries – Anderson Society, Blue Key Honor Society, Mortar Board and Omicron Delta Kappa – and names of new inductees are closely guarded until the day of the event.

Besides a time to honor hard work and achievement, Honors Week is also a time to bring the University family together, said Dr. Kathleen Cramer, senior associate vice president for student affairs. “We have alumni who come to Honors Week events, especially the tapping ceremony,” she said. “It’s a big day for families of students, and Honors Week is a tradition that brings different generations of the UA family back together.”

But traditions do give way sometimes. For a number of years, the “Honors Week Book” was the way the University recorded the names and events that made up the week. Produced under the auspices of the Division of Student Affairs, the book was distributed across campus and included names of all honorees. As enrollment grew and the caliber and number of honors students grew, the “Honors Week Book” grew in size. When it reached more than 110 pages, the time had come to find a new tradition for commemorating the week.

In 2010, each college and school began producing an honors week booklet, tailoring it to its observance. The Division of Student Affairs continues to produce a booklet for campuswide honor societies and awards.

Besides being one of the high points of UA tradition for the year, Honors Week is also one of the busiest times of the year for administrators like Nelson, who tries to make an appearance at a variety of Honors Week events to show support for what he called the community of scholars.

And, students are just as involved as faculty and administrators in Honors Week. The Coordinating Council for Honor Societies assists in planning Honors Week.

“CCHS helps provide unity and efficiency in the selections process of various honor societies and awards presented during the week. With the coordination of the various honor societies, CCHS ensures that the week is conducted in the most prestigious and honorable manner to reflect and represent the true excellence of the University, its students and its faculty,” said Taylor Scruggs, president of CCHS.

This year, a service aspect has been added. Senior honoraries will be collecting books for grades K-5. Honors Day attendees may place the books in collections bins at the ceremony on the Mound. Books will be donated to a local elementary school. according to Mortar Board Vice President Mallory Meissner.

The Tapping on the Mound will take place at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, April 8. For a schedule of Honors Week events across campus, visit crimsonhonors.ua.edu.