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Davis, California

Friday, April 19, 2024

Traditions of UC Davis


Evolving, expanding, evoking Aggie pride

Last spring, Kimberly Miller strode across the graduation stage, squeezing her daughter’s hand with glee as their medals gleaned in the sun. Miller, now an animal biology graduate student, and her daughter, Evie, were each wearing a special medallion in recognition of their completion of all 50 Aggie Traditions.

“Most folks don’t get to wear a medal unless you’re the university medalist, which is only going to one person,” said Jennifer Thayer, the assistant director of programs for the Cal Aggie Alumni Association and UC Davis alumna. “So having a nice medal that’s just showing you have Aggie pride and Aggie spirit and just showing that you were really committed to being fully engaged on campus during your time here is pretty exciting.”

Back in 2008, the Cal Aggie Alumni Association collaborated with ASUCD to create a list of the most quintessentially UC Davis activities, which can be conveniently found online or on the mobile app, “Aggie Traditions.” Once all 50 traditions are completed — including visiting the Davis Farmers Market, reading a copy of The California Aggie and meeting Gunrock — students are given a medal at commencement to showcase their dedication to the authentic Aggie experience.

“I think so many times we focus on getting the grade, getting the internship, getting through school, paying their way, the kind of stuff where we forget we should be doing great, fun things,” said Carrie Wright, the associate executive director and chief programs officer for the Cal Aggie Alumni Association and a UCD alumna.

One of the most iconic events at UC Davis that makes the list is Picnic Day, the oldest and most popular tradition a student has the opportunity to experience. Not only do students partake in this annual event, but family, alumni and community members have enjoyed this event since 1909.

“Picnic Day is over 100 years old and was basically an open house where families would come and see where their students were going to school,” Wright said. “It’s the largest student-run event on a campus, so that’s clearly one of the most unique and long-lasting of the traditions we have.”

Miller considers Picnic Day the most classic from the list of Aggie Traditions. She attests that spending the day on campus visiting all of the open house exhibits and exploring areas outside of one’s own department is special and connects people to each other in a special way. To Miller, attending Picnic Day is a great representation of Davis culture; attending Picnic Day, in other words, is a rite of passage.

I feel like a tradition is something that has some kind of special connection to it,” Miller said. “Something that after you’ve completed it, you’re now a part of something. Even if it’s as simple as eating lunch in the CoHo or studying at Shields, now you can share that experience with other Aggies who have done the same.”

Indeed, traditions surround UC Davis students. When Thayer was a student, she spent a lot of time in the CoHo, unaware that she was living an Aggie tradition every day of her college experience. As a freshman, visiting the cows by her dorm in Tercero was another effortless check on her own list of accomplished traditions.

“I think some of these are not what we necessarily consider traditions, but it’s something that the students or even a staff member or a faculty member are doing every day that they don’t even know is creating their whole UC Davis experience, whether it be visiting the cows or going to the Rec Pool for a swim or reading the book of the campus book project,” Thayer said. “All of these things that we do everyday […] are actually really cool fun things to do and [are] making your time here at Davis that much more memorable.”

The Aggie Traditions list also includes other signature Davis events like Pajamarino, which has its roots back in 1912, as well as rituals like rubbing or kissing the egghead in front of Shields Library during finals week — which was around when Thayer and Wright were students here in the 1990s and persists today. They can be as big as attending the Whole Earth Festival or as simple as riding Unitrans to campus. No matter the magnitude, all of these activities and customs are considered traditions for important reasons.

“To make something special enough to be considered a tradition, I think it needs to be something relatively unique to UC Davis (like the Pajamarino), something any student can reasonably accomplish, and something that will make the student experience more memorable overall,” Miller said.

Traditions have the capacity to evolve. Pajamarino started as a small gathering of students in their pajamas at the train station in order to greet returning alumni on the eve of Homecoming. Today, though, the event is a full-fledged celebration, complete with student performances and a parade through downtown.

Not only do traditions evolve, but they expand as time moves forward. Thayer and Wright both mentioned the possibility of adding eating Woodstock’s pizza to the list of Aggie Traditions, and Miller believes riding the draft horse wagon around campus would be another great addition. Both of these activities fit Miller’s definition of what makes a good tradition in that they are accessible to students and community members as well as offer a taste of true Davis culture — something that can’t be experienced just anywhere.

        “How [traditions] add to the UC Davis experience is that [they] make a student really appreciate their time on campus,” Thayer said. “If you’re here for four years and studying for four years, […] you want […] to be able to enjoy your time without having to feel like you’re rushing through your four years. I think some of the traditions allow students to be able to do that, […] to have a good, well-rounded experience while you’re on campus and so when you leave campus it gives you that warm and fuzzy good memories of your time here.”

Written by: Marlys Jeane — features@theaggie.org


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