The 100th Anniversary of Mountain Day
by Allison Moore, Berry College
As many of you know, we just celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Grand March at Berry College. This tradition, which was started by Martha Berry herself, is done once a year on Mountain Day in celebration of Miss Berry’s birthday. To an outsider, and often to the Berry students themselves, the tradition seems a little strange. First, there are the clothes. All students are required to wear specific colors based upon the original Berry student uniforms. Underclassmen girls wear pink, underclassmen boys wear blue, senior girls wear blue, and senior boys wear white. The students, divided by gender and class, spend about thirty minutes walking up and down a hill, first alone, then in pairs, then in groups of four, and so forth, until the entire student body marches down the hill together in rows of sixteen. During the March, students drop a number of pennies equal to their age in a basket at the bottom of the hill as a birthday gift to Martha Berry. The ceremony closes with all of the students holding hands and singing the Berry College Alma Mater. When visualizing the Grand March, it seems like an amazing display of student unity and pride, and also a powerful way of thanking the school’s founder. However, as a Berry College sophomore who has now participated in the Grand March twice, I have a few confessions.
First of all, there is one thing no one ever explicitly tells the Berry freshman: it is very exhausting to walk up and down a hill five times. By the end of the March, even the football player standing beside me was sweating like crazy and panting for breath. Also, when they say hill, they mean hill. This is no gently sloping plain that we are walking on. It is a full on, walking-turns-to-climbing hill which, of course, furthers the exhaustion. Also, I was ill-advised about what to wear my first Mountain Day, and I decided to go with cute, rather than sensible, shoes. The blisters where unbelievable and I got a fantastically deep bruise in the arch of my foot so I couldn’t walk normally for weeks. Another thing the female students tend to discuss a lot is how long it will take for the boys to run out. Since our school’s gender ratio is so uneven, when the students are paired off during the March, the boys will run out before the end, forcing many of the underclassman girls to pair up with each other rather than a guy. Last year as a freshmen I was in this boat, but this year I got to the very front of the sophomore line and got to hold hands with a boy. This, as any Berry girl knows, is a very big deal.
Every year as we approach Mountain Day “Are you going to march?” is a constant question. The seniors usually say yes: “I wouldn’t miss my chance to wear blue!” The freshman will often say, “There’s an option?” Then, there are always those (like me) who declare, “Of course! It’s a tradition!” Some people look at you like you’re crazy and say, “Why? I did it freshman year.” And, often, the “why” is not made clear to students. I was recently looking in the digital archive out of curiosity for some Mountain Day documents, and I found this short telegram sent to Martha Berry by her assistant, Inez Henry, in 1941. The note was obviously written for the sole purpose of informing Miss Berry about how the Grand March had gone that year. This was, in all likelihood, the first time that Martha had ever missed the March which had, at that point, been happening for almost thirty years. At that time, Miss Berry was hospitalized in Atlanta due to a series of illnesses that would eventually lead to her death a mere five months later. The fact that, even in Martha’s current condition, Inez was specifically sending a message to her with the details of the Grand March – that it was perfect, that the band had played “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” and that she had been sorely missed – shows how important this event was to Miss Berry. And that’s why we have continued to hold our yearly March for the past one hundred years. I’m proud that this strange and wonderful tradition in honor of Martha Berry will continue at our school, along with the tradition of all the students grumbling about it but still doing it anyway.