Monday, June 3, 2013

Celebrating “Service” with a Park Night Tradition

From 1920 through 1935, the Friday evening of commencement weekend at the North Carolina College for Women (later Woman’s College and now UNCG) featured a ceremony known as Park Night. This allegorical drama typically took place outdoors in an outdoor theater constructed in Peabody Park. The production featured a character named Service (meant to represent the ideals of the school) as well as her attendants Mind, Body, and Spirit.
 
A scene from the 1923 Park Night ceremony
In a July 25, 1927 letter, alumnae Julia Cherry Spruill discussed the origins of Park Night. Spruill had been appointed chairman of a committee to promote school spirit amongst students. She was asked to highlight particular features of the school that made her most proud. Spruill recalled deciding “our park was our peculiar possession of which we were particularly proud, and that we could have some symbolical exercises down there which would represent the highest ideals of our college.” She consulted with President Julius Foust, who agreed to sponsor the production and to clear some land in Peabody Park for a theater.

Selection of the student to portray Service was conducted by secret ballot. A 1929 Carolinian article noted, “this is the highest honor that a student can win at this college and goes each year to the girl in the senior class who in the opinion of her associates has rendered the most outstanding service during her college career.” For example, the role of Service in 1926 went to Georgia Kirkpatrick of Efland. Kirkpatrick was class president, a charter member and president of the Alethian Society, member of the Faculty-Student Council, cabinet member of the Athletic Association, member of the Playlikers, and a staff member of both the Carolinian newspaper and the Pine Needles yearbook.

Prologue dance from the 1923 Park Night ceremony
The script for Park Night was written by the students, with the intent of it becoming a yearly tradition. The production began with a prologue in the form of a dance. It was followed by a dramatic processional featured fifty students dressed in white robes, carrying lit torches, and singing the college song. Service and her attendants then entered, and each attendant presented Service with allegorical gifts, often through a solo dance as well as a lyrical Grecian-style poem.  After the individual presentations, Service spoke, accepting the gifts and giving a dramatic monologue. The production concluded with an epilogue featuring “a Dance to the Future.”

Although the tradition of Park Night ended in 1935 when graduating seniors decided to forgo the production in favor of honoring a number of leading classmates in a formal ceremony, “Service” remains the motto of UNCG today. From the words of Service’s concluding monologue, “when full liberty, sweetness, and joy have driven out misery and night, we shall live in the light of the glorious day when Service has won all the earth.”

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