Inauguration Traditions

Inauguration Traditions

The president's chainThe president's chainThe president's chain, which is worn on ceremonial occasions when the mace is carried, was an anonymous gift in 1965. The golden chain contains ten scallop shells, heraldic symbols of goodness and wisdom, which are joined at the bottom by a larger shell. Alternating with the shells are links composed of pairs of facing B’s. On the top of the chain is the seal of Rhode Island, and suspended at the bottom is the coat of arms of the University, finished in enamel. Clusters of ivy link the chains.

The presidential gown is unique. It was designed by Anne S. K. Brown and presented to the University in 1964 by her and her husband, fellow John Nicholas Brown, on the occasion of Brown’s bicentennial. The gown worn today by President Paxson was closely fashioned to Mrs. Brown’s original design. The gown is seal brown, the official University color. The trimmings are cardinal red similar to the red in St. George’s Cross, which appears in the University coat of arms. The yoke and facings are edged in gold trim. The president, a member of the Board of Fellows, wears the trencher hat prescribed for the Corporation in 1912.

During the Inauguration, President Paxson will receive a tin box containing the University’s charter, a rite that symbolizes the transfer of authority within the University. While the tin box is historically authentic (the box was ordered by the Corporation in 1765), it contains only a photographic copy of the charter; the University’s original charter was destroyed in the hurricane of 1938 when salt water flooded a bank vault at the foot of College Hill.

The Manning Chair once belonged to Stephen Hopkins, Brown’s first chancellor and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Tradition has it that the chair was used by Brown’s first president, James Manning, who received it as a gift from Hopkins and left it to the College in 1791; but in fact the chair was presented to the University by a Hopkins descendant in 1848. The president uses the chair on ceremonial occasions to conduct the business of the University.

The mace weighs more than twenty pounds and was given to the University in 1928 by Mrs. George St. John Sheffield. It is adorned with symbols from Brown’s past and with the names of Brown presidents and of prominent nineteenth-century alumni. Once a weapon used to crush an opponent’s armor, the mace has evolved into a symbol of authority. It is carried by a member of the faculty.

The Inaugural Procession

Processions have long been a part of the Brown tradition. Early Commencements – first in Beneficent Congregational Church (“Roundtop”) and, beginning in 1776, at the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America – necessitated a procession from the campus to the ceremonies, and the Brown Commencement procession was born. In 1901 the ceremonial Van Wickle Gates were built at the top of College Hill, and since that time they have symbolically accommodated the passage of the Commencement procession.

In academia, processions, like academic dress, have their origins in the monasteries where the present-day university has its roots. The ceremonial robes – modernized with colors and varying sleeve lengths to signify degree and rank – began as monks’ robes worn in drafty, cloistered monasteries. And the processions that once led monks and priests to worship have become the festive marches of European and American academic institutions.

The first eight inaugurations at Brown were relatively private affairs. President Faunce was the first to include a ceremonial walk, and he was attended by prominent contemporary college presidents and scholars. Today, Brown and President Paxson will welcome representatives from colleges, universities, and learned societies from around the world who will march in order of their founding dates.