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Traditions

Many of the university’s traditions can be traced to the presidency of John M. McBryde and the changes he made in moving what was then called Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (VAMC) from a two-year-college-type school to a bona fide four-year college.

Tradition-maker

McBryde assumed his duties as president of VAMC in 1891 and immediately began reorganizing the curriculum. His vision was for the Blacksburg school to become more professional and technical, and his plan for implementing that vision laid the foundation for modern-day Virginia Tech.

McBryde’s changes in the little college spurred the Virginia General Assembly to make a change of its own in 1896 to reflect the “new” college. VAMC’s new name became Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute, which the general populace shortened to Virginia Polytechnic Institute, or simply VPI.

Coat of Arms, Motto, and Seal

With that new name in hand and aided by his son, John Jr., McBryde proceeded to develop a coat of arms, motto, and seal.

Coat of Arms - The coat of arms features a shield divided into four quarters. The first quarter portrays the figures from the obverse of the Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia—representing our status as the state’s land-grant college. The second quarter is comprised of a transit theodolite (that’s an instrument that measures horizontal and vertical angles) and a leveling rod superimposed over a scroll—reflecting our engineering heritage. The third quarter shows a chemical retort (a glass vessel used for distilling) over a flame, with liquid dripping into a graduate beaker—expressing our additional academic scope. And the fourth quarter illustrates an upright half-shucked ear of corn—depicting our agricultural roots (so to speak). Above the shield sits the burning lamp of knowledge being filled by a human hand. At the bottom lie the Latin words Ut Prosim, which translate to “That I May Serve.”

Motto - Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) became—and remains—the school’s motto, a timeless ideal for our land-grant-school values of discovery, learning, and engagement.

Seal – Since the college would need a seal for official documents, the McBrydes encircled the coat of arms with a band that includes the name of the institution. In the late 19th century, the name used was the unofficial Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Today, we use our official name, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Yes, after the General Assembly finally changed our name to Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1944, that august body bestowed one more official name in 1970, giving us four names over the course of our history.

Logos and Tagline

Nearly a century after the McBrydes created the official seal, Larry Hincker, associate vice president for University Relations, recognized the need for a less formal visual element that Virginia Tech could use on signs, publications, and other items that do not require the official seal. So in the early 1990s, Hincker and graphic designer Michele Moldenhauer developed a logo, which consists of a shield that incorporates the Pylons of the War Memorial, underscored with the year of the university’s founding: 1872. The shape of the shield reflects the collegiate heritage of all universities. The university officially adopted the logo in May 1991 and updated it in 2006.

The 2006 update followed a yearlong study by a branding consultant, who worked closely with the university community to develop a representative tagline for Virginia Tech. That tagline—Invent the Future—expresses the future-altering and future-enhancing work of each facet of the Virginia Tech experience. Although the logo can be used without the tagline, it is generally used with it.

The university also has an athletic logo: a streamlined VT, which is used only for sports and sports merchandise. Unveiled in 1984, the athletic logo is a composite of designs submitted by two Virginia Tech art students—Lisa Eichler of Chesapeake, Va., and Chris Craft of Roanoke, Va.—to a competition sponsored by the university’s art department. The two students received $50. The logo replaced an older athletic logo that consisted of a large V with a T centered inside it, which had debuted in 1957.

School Colors

The first school colors, black and cadet gray, were picked in 1891 by the new student-run Athletic Association to reflect the principal colors of the cadet uniforms worn by the all-male, military student body. But when the black and gray appeared on athletic uniforms in the striped style popular in the late 19th century, athletes complained that the stripes made them look like convicts.

The corps of cadets and a few other people from the college then banded together to examine the question of colors. They discovered that no other college or university in the country had orange and maroon as its school colors, so burnt orange and Chicago maroon were adopted in 1896 as the official colors.

Class Rings

Each spring, juniors receive their class rings during the week of Ring Dance (see below). The class of 1911 presented the first official class ring, which displayed a pair of eagles and a flat stone. Eagles have adorned every class ring since. The 1912 ring bore a square stone, which was replaced the following year with a gold seal embossed with the class numeral, an eagle, and the letters “V.P.I.” An oval stone was introduced in 1914 and was used on all class rings until the 1973 ring, which adopted a rectangular‑shaped stone. Until 1940, a rope had been used to encircle the stone, but in that year a chain symbolizing class unity was adopted and has become traditional. The class of 1961 was the first to employ oversized block class numerals, which all rings have since used in some form. Beginning with the class of 1914 and in subsequent years, a student committee has designed a ring that will be unique to its class; since 1993, the committee has been advised by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association. Today, all rings include a screaming eagle, American flag, campus buildings, and the interlocking chain around the bezel. Since 1991 the ring collection of each class has been named to honor a distinguished person, usually an alumnus or former president, as follows:

1991            Julian A. Burruss

1992            Thomas C. Richards

1993            Earle D. Gregory

1994            Lucy Lee Lancaster

1995            Charles O’Neal Gordon Sr.

1996            James D. McComas

1997            William E. Lavery

1998            Henry J. Dekker

1999            William and Peggy Skelton

2000            Col. Harry Downing Temple

2001            Christopher C. Kraft

2002            Homer H. Hickam Jr.

2003            T. Marshall Hahn Jr.

2004            John and Sue Ellen Rocovich

2005            Maj. Gen. W. Thomas Rice

2006            Paul E. Torgersen

2007            Mary Jones Berry

2008            Gene A. James

2009            William C. Latham

2010            Charles and Janet Steger

Class rings issued since 1921 are displayed in the Williamsburg Room in Squires Student Center. Rings may still be ordered for all classes since 1923. Rings may not be ordered from a manufacturer without prior authorization from the Virginia Tech Alumni Association. A list of the manufacturers and the years they manufactured a class ring follows:

ManufacturerClass
Art Carved Class Rings (merged with Balfour in 2006 under Commemorative Brands Inc., but listed by both names in 2006; afterward, only listed as Balfour)1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005
Art Carved and Balfour (after 2006, listed only as Balfour)2006
Auld’s Inc. (Herff-Jones has dies)1925, 1929, 1932
Bailey, Banks and Biddle, Philadelphia, Penn. (probably bought by Josten’s)1923, 1924
Balfour, Attleboro, Mass.1948, 1951, 1960, 1966, 1970, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1990, 1992, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010
Charles Elliott (probably bought by G. L. Klatt, Inc.)1928, 1930, 1931, 1935
Dieges and Clust, Towson, Md. (probably bought by Herf-Jones)1959, 1965
George Spies (Josten’s has die)1939
Herff Jones, Indianapolis, Ind.1926, 1927, 1933, 1934, 1950, 1953, 1957, 1961, 1963, 1968, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1993, 1997
John Roberts, Norman, Okla. (probably bought by Art Carved Class Rings)1967, 1969, 1972
Josten’s, Owatonna, Minn.1936, 1937, 1938, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1979, 1981- 1982, 1983, 1986, 1988, 1998, 1991, 1994, 1996

Ring Dance

The juniors of the class of 1935 presented the first Ring Dance on April 27, 1934. The class of 1935 initiated the ring figure, saber arch, and presentation of the ring by the junior’s date. The first coast‑to‑coast radio broadcast of the dance occurred in 1941. In 1939, student Sterling B. Donahoe wrote bandleader Fred Waring, who had offered to write a school song for any school that requested it, and asked the popular musician to write a song to be played at the VPI Homecoming on Oct. 20, 1939. The result was Moonlight and VPI, with lyrics by Charles Gaynor and music by Waring. However, the Fred Waring Glee Club introduced the song nationally on April 17, 1942, on Waring’s NBC radio network show, which was broadcast from New York. The song became a Ring Dance favorite.

World War II precluded staging Ring Dance 1944-1946 since so many male juniors were engaged in the war effort.

For more than 30 years, Company D of the corps of cadets has released a small pig onto the dance floor after rings are exchanged, a tradition that began as a prank. In recent times, the HokieBird, attired in top hat and tux, has also become a feature of the event, which culminates with fireworks on the Drillfield; the playing of “Silver Taps”; and the firing of Skipper, the corps canon.

Skipper

Various cannons have been used off and on for years at Virginia Tech—in fact cheerleaders started a 1938 football game against Washington and Lee by firing a canon. In the 1960s one industrious student formally proposed to the student governing body that a cannon be acquired to fire at football games, and the proposal was approved but went no further.

About the same time, two cadets from the class of 1964 made a pact at a traditional Thanksgiving Day game with then-archrival VMI that they would build a cannon for Virginia Tech (then known as VPI) to outshine—or outblast—VMI's “Little John.” The cadets, Alton B. “Butch” Harper Jr. and Homer Hadley “Sonny” Hickam (of October Sky fame), were tired of hearing the VMI keydets chant, “Where's your cannon?” after firing Little John.

Harper and Hickam collected brass from their fellow cadets, added it to metal donated by Hickam's father, collected donations from the corps to purchase other supplies, and used a mold created in one of the engineering departments from Civil War-style plans to make their cannon. They derived the name of the cannon, “Skipper,”from the fact that President John Kennedy, who had just been assassinated, had been the skipper of a PT-boat, and they wanted to honor him.

On first firing Skipper at the next game with VMI, the eager cadets tripled the charge, blowing the hats off a number of VMI keydets and rattling the glass in the press-box windows of Roanoke's Victory Stadium. They never heard the VMI chant again.

Today, cadets fire Skipper from outside Lane Stadium when the football team enters the field and when it scores and for other notable occasions.

Nicknames

Hokies - When the General Assembly changed the VAMC name to Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute, the college needed a new cheer.

The old one had been a simple play on the college’s name:

 

            Rip, Rah, Ree!

            Va, Va, Vee!

            Virginia, Virginia!

            A-M-C!  

 

The college, whose name was shortened in popular usage to Virginia Polytechnic Institute, or, simply, VPI, held a contest for the student body to come up with a new spirit yell. The cheer entered by O. M. Stull, a member of the class of 1896, won the $5 prize for first place. Like the old cheer, the new one was also a play on the college’s name:

 

            Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy!

            Techs, Techs, V.P.I.!

            Sola-Rex, Sola-Rah.

            Polytechs – Vir-gin-i-a.!

            Rae, Ri, V.P.I.!

 

By 1903, an “e” had been added to “Hoki,” either for looks or to forestall mispronunciation of the word that Stull said he created merely as an attention-grabber in the cheer, which became known as “Old Hokie.””Team! Team! Team!” was later added at the end of the cheer.

Gobblers - Another nickname, which did not exist when Stull wrote his cheer, became more popular than Hokies. Fans used the nickname “Gobblers,” beginning in the early 20th century, more than “Hokies”—at least until the 1980s.

Disagreements exist about how the nickname “Gobblers” originated. One idea for its origination is that the “Gobblers” tag developed when a small group of cadets attended the 1907 Thanksgiving Day football game in Richmond, which pitted VPI against the University of North Carolina. The students returned to campus to spread the word that their victorious team “took the turkey.”

Another possibility is that the name developed from the eating habits of athletes, who “gobbled” their food. Taylor Adams, class of 1909, wrote that the name “was first applied to the members of the football squad because of their gargantuan appetites. . . . The excess avoiddupois of these Neanderthals . . . was sustained by bigger and better feeding of ‘growley’ [the cadets’ term for food] than were given to the lowly proletarians of the corps. . . . They fed, I remember, with the voracity of barracuda at special so-called ‘training tables.’ Their gobblings of food were legendary and naturally gave rise to their unfortunate pseudonym.”

Harry Temple in The Bugle’s Echo says that in 1909 cadets would start yelling “coni-a-ah” as an inspirational cry when the team was in a tight spot and football players would respond with a turkey gobble call.

Another possible source is that the nickname developed in 1909, when football Coach Branch Bocock pulled his players aside, one by one, and initiated them into an impromptu and informal “Gobbler Club” to build team spirit and camaraderie. After that, the name took off, appearing in print for the first time that same year.

In the late 1970s, the university hired Bill Dooley as football coach and athletic director. Dooley eventually heard that the Gobblers moniker evolved from the eating habits of athletes. Not liking the image, he took steps in the early 1980s to ensure that Virginia Tech’s prominent nickname became Hokies rather than Gobblers—he even removed the turkey-gobble sound from the scoreboard.

Frank Beamer, who had played on the Gobbler football team in the 1960s, put the gobble back on the scoreboard when he became football coach in 1987. But by then the Hokies nickname had stuck—even though Lane Stadium still erupts in cheers when the scoreboard emits the turkey gobble.

Mascot

Virginia Tech’s HokieBird mascot has quite a history, which intertwines the two nicknames.

In the early 1900s, the official mascot was a VPI employee who had become a favorite of the cadets—and his special designation as mascot extended to his turkey, which eventually usurped his position. The Gobbler nickname had already become popular when—and no doubt was the reason why—Floyd “Hard Times” Meade, a local resident and VPI employee chosen by the student body to serve as the school’s mascot, trained a large turkey to perform various stunts. Meade first demonstrated his turkey’s skill—and strength—at a football game in 1913 by having the turkey pull a cart with Meade riding in it. But college President Jospeh D. Eggleston Jr. thought the cart-pulling was cruel to the turkey and halted it after one game. After that, Meade only paraded the turkey, which he had trained to gobble on command, up and down the sidelines—and did so until another turkey trainer, William Byrd “Joe Chesty” Price, took over in 1924. Use of a live turkey mascot on the sidelines continued at least until Price’s retirement in 1953 and possibly into the early 1960s.

While a costumed Gobbler joined the live turkey for at least one game in 1936, the first permanent costumed Gobbler did not appear until the fall of 1962. In the early 1960s, Mercer MacPherson, a civil engineering student, saw the mascot for another university and decided that VPI should have one as well. He contacted a manufacturer, learned what a mascot suit would cost, and raised the money, most of it from civilian students.

Money in hand—$200 —MacPherson drove to the manufacturing company, located in Pittsburgh, to help create the costume. The result was a somewhat unusual turkey with a cardinal-like head. It sported real turkey feathers dyed in school colors.

The costume arrived a few days before the last football game of the season, what was then the annual Thanksgiving Day face-off between VPI and VMI in the “Military Classic of the South.” MacPherson donned the get-up to become the first of Virginia Tech’s permanent—though visually evolving—mascots.

Even though the mascot was known as the Gobbler and then the Fighting Gobbler for 20 years, the costume itself underwent at least one major alteration. In 1971 it was modified to a long-necked bird—some 7 1/2 feet tall. The name was modified as well—to Fighting Gobbler—on the suggestion of the football coach at the time.

The long-necked bird was used for 10 years before Dooley began pushing to eliminate the Gobbler image.  In 1981 the Athletics Department contacted the art department about assigning a student to sketch designs for a new mascot costume. Student George Wills accepted the assignment and drew several designs for his class project. The designs went to a company in Cleveland that stitched together the final costume based on those drawings.

The new mascot made its first appearance in September 1981 at the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest football game, arriving on the playing field by helicopter. The turkey-ish figure, which proceeded to wow the crowd with its antics, was referred to as “the Hokie mascot,” “the Hokie,” and “the Hokie bird.” Eventually, the term “Hokie bird”stuck, although it has since been merged into one word: HokieBird. In the evolution of costumes, this 1981mascot became known as the “diving bell costume” because of the shape of the head.

In 1986 another athletic director pushed for a redesigned HokieBird logo, and Wills, by then a local cartoonist and illustrator, latched onto the project, developing the big-chested bird used today and charging $75 for his work. Peg Morse of the Athletics Department worked with Wills to alter the mascot costume to match the new logo. Their goal was a turkey that conveyed power and strength.

The new HokieBird made its debut on Sept. 12, 1987, during Virginia Tech’s football season opener against Clemson. The now famous mascot entered Virginia Tech history in style, riding onto the field in a white limousine escorted by the Hi-Techs and two students dressed as Secret Service agents.

Since that dramatic entrance two decades ago, HokieBird has conquered the hearts of the Hokie nation; has won national mascot competitions; and has become so popular that it landed an appearance on Animal Planet’s “Turkey Secrets,” a special show aired in 2002 and 2003 in various timeslots during the week before and the week of Thanksgiving.

A video was commissioned for the 2013 Ring Premiere and "Evolution of our HokieBird" is available on YouTube in celebration of the 102nd anniversary of the Virginia Tech Class Ring. 

Flaming VT

At least by the 1960s, S Squadron—the squadron merged with R Squadron to form H Company in 1970—was soaking toilet paper rolls in kerosene for a couple of days before Thursday night pep rallies during football season. The cadets threaded the rolls on a frame shaped likes a V with a T in the middle, and on Thursday nights they lit the VT and a cadet, draped with wet towels and assisted by other members of his company, paraded it around campus, ending up at the pep rally. As the VT zigzagged its way to the rally, a number of students fell in behind it, helping to develop good crowds at the pep rallies. Since the 1990s H Company, which has continued the tradition since it was formed in 1970, lights the VT at the pep rally, using a torch that has been passed down through the years.

Homecoming Game Ball Run

A continuous tradition of R Company since 1977 and possibly intermittently before then, various cadets in the company run the game ball for Homecoming for 100 miles around the campus during the week of Homecoming, ending at the Homecoming pep rally.

Key Play

In the early to mid-1980s, probably 1984, Hokie football fans began removing keys from their pockets and shaking them at the beginning of a third-down offensive play, indicating a “key play.” The tradition did not originate at Virginia Tech but has become a significant tradition at football games.

Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets

The university’s longest-running tradition is the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, which traces its beginnings to the university’s founding in 1872 as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (VAMC).

Although the first students—all male at the time—had to wear cadet uniforms and were involved in military training, disagreements erupted almost immediately over the level of that training. Brig. Gen. James H.  Lane, a professor who oversaw the military program and became its first commandant, wanted VAMC to follow the military organization of VMI. Charles L. C. Minor, the college president, viewed the training as a teaching aid. Their differences over the issue mushroomed over the years, resulting in a flurry of fisticuffs during a faculty meeting—and nearly spelling the demise of the college that was to become Virginia Tech.

VAMC waffled on the issue for several years—depending on the wishes of the members of the board of visitors appointed by whatever governor was in office at the time. The corps of cadets finally became a permanent organization in 1891.

In 1923 President Julian A. Burruss cut the mandatory four-year military requirement for male students in half. In 1964 President T. Marshall Hahn, in a move to transform VPI into a comprehensive university, made participation in the corps voluntary. In 1973 the corps voluntarily accepted women into its ranks.

Throughout its existence, the corps itself has spurred countless traditions, some that have come and gone—like the Rat Parade and Sophomore Night—and others that remain—like Skipper and even having a mascot.

One of three corps of cadets in the nation that operates alongside a civilian student body at a public university, the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets is an invaluable component of the university, enhancing ceremonies, sparking enthusiasm, promoting the attributes of The Pylons, and setting the standard for leadership.

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    Cadets near present-day Duck Pond

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