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Traditions Night

At the start of every fall semester, anxious KU freshmen fill the stadium for Traditions Night, a rite of passage where they learn about the cherished traditions of old KU. Alumni know them well: The Rock Chalk Chant. The waving of the wheat. The Alma Mater.

Though the program has seen subtle changes since its inception in 1984, a few things endure, such as the setting–including a spectacular crimson and blue sunset view of Campanile Hill on a late-summer evening–and of course the traditions themselves.

During what was once remembered as Country Club week and later reclaimed as Hawk Week, Traditions Night represents a sort of passing of the torch to a new class of Jayhawks. In fact, a torch was literally passed through the 80’s and 90’s from families with fourth and fifth generation Jayhawks.

We remember Traditions Night well, perhaps sitting with new roommates in the stadium’s south bowl as wide-eyed, neophyte freshmen. The students have since shifted to the east stands, then to the west, and benefited from the addition of a giant videoboard to help tell the KU story and teach our beloved traditions. Year after year, KU puts on a show.

And there’s always a showstopper.

Whether it’s former chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little driving a formula one racer, a junior James Naismith swiping the rules of basketball, or Topher Enneking’s spoken-word ode to KU, there always seems to be a can’t-miss moment every year.

And so, what have we learned after all of these years at KU Traditions Night? Participate and make the most of the experience, enjoy the show and be sure to stick around till the end. You don’t want to miss a moment.

Cue the show

This year's host of traditions night embodies the KU experience. Cue Wright, a changed major and two degrees later, has found her career while doing what she loves.

Wright, j’15, g’17, put her crowd skills to the test, performing for the class of 2022 before hosting the night's presentations of speakers and KU traditions.

A hit with all ages of Jayhawks, Big and Baby Jay introduced themselves to the freshman class with pictures of what they did during the summer. (Look closer at those royal wedding pictures!) Videos on the history of the Jayhawk mascot took students from the origin of the "Jayhawkers" term to the many versions of the Jayhawk logo, to the introduction of Big Jay and the hatching of Baby Jay.

Every year, Traditions Night also teaches KU's infamous fight song clap, with videos, live demonstrations, and multiple attempts. Some freshmen laugh it off, while others are determined to get it right. The good news is, they'll have four years to practice.

Making an entrance

The night presents a perfect opportunity for first impressions. The leaders of campus have the students' undivided attention before classes fill their schedules.

Chancellor Doug Girod, entering his second year overseeing the University, arrived in style as he rolled in on his motorcycle.

Director of Athletics Jeff Long also spoke to the student body. Fresh off KU Kickoff stops in Topeka, Wichita and Kansas City, Long continues to introduce himself to the people of KU.

Goosebumps

As we mentioned before, Traditions Night always has a showstopper. That goosebump-inducing moment that transcends time and simultaneously marks the beginning of your time as a Jayhawk. This year was no different, and that moment came when it was time for students to learn our Alma Mater.

Though the video will give you chills, the inspiration behind it, and process of putting it all together, takes a small army of KU communicators to create. Tim Seley, associate director for digital media in the office of KU Marketing Communications, described the process for us.

In recent years videos have become a pretty big component of Traditions Night,” Seley told us. “They’re an engaging, concise way to share about KU’s traditions. So early on in the Traditions Night planning process we had identified which traditions we wanted to highlight through video.”

Working with Writer Justin Wheatley and Motion Graphics Editor Trevor Mowry, Seley’s team took on the job of creating an entirely new series of video for Traditions Night, combining the right balance of nostalgia, education and fun, with some tongue-in-cheek humor thrown in for the students. The result was a series that set the perfect tone, and it needed to end on the right note.

“As we planned out the event it became apparent that the evening was missing an additional component that really tapped into the feeling of what it’s like to be a part of this place and its traditions,” Seley acknowleged. Suddenly, the challenge of pulling off the grand finale, the final piece of the program, the Alma Mater, loomed large.

How do you make a video about a very specific song, using background music that complements the song stylistically without competing with the original? After finding a track that conveyed the right style and emotion, melding it with the Alma Mater became the real challenge, according to Seley.

“When listening to an early cut we had the realization that we might actually be able to overlay the melody to the Alma Mater on top of the song,” Seley said. Justin Runge began writing a script for the video to connect the Alma Mater with the emotions it invokes.

Clockwise from right: video editor Andrew Lee, script writer Justin Runge, and video director Tim Seley

The idea sounded great in theory, but would it work? With Traditions Night fast approaching, they still needed original piano and voice recordings, so they contacted the KU School of Music. Enter piano student Michaela Schenkel who performed a hauntingly beautiful piano rendition of the Alma Mater, combined with the angelic voice of Suzie Johannes, a vocal musician who works for KU IT.

“Suzie has this really endearing, intimate voice that blended perfectly with the music to get us to where we wanted the piece to be,” Seley shared. “They were both great to work with on this project.”

For the voiceover, they called Cue Wright into action, who was doubling as the night’s emcee. A performer in her own right, she brought a student-friendly energy that complemented and contrasted perfectly with the piece. After multiple rewrites to get the timing, emotion and flow just right, and expert editing by Andrew Lee, Seley knew they had something special.

“We’re really happy with the finished video,” Seley admitted, “and hope that it strikes a chord (pun intended) with the alumni community as well as it did with the Traditions Night audience.”

The completed project–a masterfully choreographed combination of voice, vocals, melody and accompaniment– will give you goosebumps. Wrap your arm around your neighbor and sway along.

Story by David Johnston and Ryan Camenzind

Video director: Tim Seley

Voiceover: Cue Wright

Video editor: Andrew Lee

Motion graphics: Trevor Mowry

Script writer: Justin Runge

Copy editing: Lois Sierra

Vocals: Suzie Johannes

Music by Ryan Taubert licensed through the Music Bed

Additional audio engineering: Brock Babcock (KU School of Music)

Additional piano: Michaela Schenkel (Class of 2019, Music Therapy)

Additional music production: Tim Seley

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