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Marketing Department PhotographerThe 2016 President’s Ball cel­e­brated 50 years since the College first inau­gu­rated the event under the name “The President’s Christmas Ball.” More than 1050 people attended the event in the College’s new Searle Center, the most ever since its start in 1966.
Over the past five decades, the Ball has developed and taken on many dif­ferent forms as Hillsdale has matured as a school.
This year’s event fea­tured The Jerry Ross Band, and cul­mi­nated in the long-standing President’s Ball tra­dition, the coro­nation of a King and Queen from a court of 10 chosen seniors. This year’s King and Queen were Kyle Cooper and Marie Wathen.
“About three weeks prior to President’s Ball, I contact all the faculty and ask them to nom­inate five senior men and five senior women that they believe should rep­resent the court of President’s Ball,” Student Activ­ities Director Anthony Manno said. “They nom­inate people based on aca­d­emics, extracur­ricular activ­ities, char­acter, how they are as a student in and out of class — overall people who embody Hillsdale and should rep­resent us in the President’s Ball court.”
Once the faculty has chosen the ten nom­inees, the Arnns invite them to Broadlawn for an interview tea the Friday before the Ball. After the tea, a faculty panel asks nom­inees ques­tions ranging from “What do you plan to do after college?” to “What is honor?” On the night of the Ball, the court attends a reception at the Arnns before heading to the event.
But President’s Ball has not always been what it is today. The event began in 1966 as a school-wide Christmas party. The Col­legian reported the Ball’s intent “was to give stu­dents and faculty a chance to meet on a social level.” The College hired a live band to play “rock music for the younger people attending” and “subdued music for the less young attending.” Then-pres­ident Donald Phillips would then announce king and queen.
In 1972, the Ball became an event inde­pendent of the Christmas season. To accom­modate for Pres­ident George Roche III’s busy schedule, the college moved the event to Saint Patrick’s Day. Because of this change, 1972 marked a shift in the Ball’s tone, and the event became more focused on the king and queen. The Col­legian reported many stu­dents thought the Ball “seemed like a re-lived Senior Prom.”
In 1973, the college decided to start hosting the Ball in Feb­ruary, as a way to provide stu­dents a break from mid-winter dullness. But after the 1974 Ball, Hillsdale dis­con­tinued the event. Lack­luster interest, as well as the financial issues plaguing the school at the time, threatened to cancel the Ball. Even when resumed in 1977, student mis­conduct threatened to dis­con­tinue the event yet again.
The college revived the Ball in 1979 for a final try. In com­pliance with the new federal drinking laws, no alco­holic bev­erages were served at the event. In response, several fra­ter­nities held alter­native parties in an attempt to lull stu­dents away from the Ball. This practice per­sisted until the early 1980s, when the school moved the event so it would not con­flict with the “fra­ternity party schedule.”
Now the President’s Ball has become a reg­u­larized eventand one of Hillsdale’s official tra­di­tions.
Manno said President’s Ball has become a firm fixture in Hillsdale’s culture.
“When you first establish a new event, it’s a new event, not a tra­dition,” he said. “As it picks up momentum year after, and it gains noto­riety, it becomes a tra­dition. it becomes some­thing people look forward to and put on their cal­endars. I love it because it’s a way we can give back to stu­dents.”