Plymouth State 150 Traditions: What Distinguishes PSU and Warms Our Hearts
In the best of times, traditions center and ground us, connecting the past and present to the future. Their meanings have been heightened in the time of COVID. Traditions give us a sense of normality and predictability like nothing else in our lives does now. From many conversations with students, alumni, faculty, staff, and retirees, I have selected a few of our most beloved traditions. After 44 years at Plymouth, first as a student and then as a staff member, these traditions are a deep part of my own history as well.

Plymouth State’s setting in the Lakes and Mountains Region of New Hampshire makes hiking a perfect fit from the school’s founding to today.

In the Normal School years, hiking was listed as a sport along with baseball and basketball, and individual and group hikes were traditional. A student wrote about her experience in the April 1922 Prospect:

Hiking is a pleasure that any girl can participate in, and the memory of the good times enjoyed on these trips will linger always, binding ever closer the firm friendships made at P. N. S.
Early 1900's photograph of hikers
Hiking remained popular, whether it was done on the annual Plymouth Teachers College Mountain Day under the direction of Miss Beatrice Hodgdon of the class of 1916, or the White Mountain Orientation program at Plymouth State College, or by various student clubs or classes.
Pumpkins on Rounds Spires
Pumpkins placed on the spires of Rounds Hall have amazed us since the fall of 1975. According to lore, this tradition started as a self-described prank by the founders of the “Great Pumpkin Tradition,” and somehow two pumpkins have magically appeared every fall since (with one exception).

On two occasions, there have been additions to the standard two pumpkins. In 1998, the year of Lamson Library’s renovation, a pumpkin appeared on the library’s spire in addition to the two on Rounds. After 9/11, American flags were placed with the pumpkins.

Pumpkins placed on the spires of Rounds Hall
While many have tried to ascertain how the pumpkins are placed there, the answer remains unknown. Perhaps the mystery will be solved by PSU’s 200th anniversary.

First Fire
The most recent addition to PSU traditions, First Fire in the Hartman Union Building (HUB), has become an annual fall event. It was started in 2011 by Terri Potter, director of the HUB, who said, “We gather to light the first fire in the HUB’s giant hearth and concede colder weather is on its way.” Professor of English Liz Ahl recites a poem. A new ceramic First Fire mug is designed and distributed at the event, filled with hot cocoa, coffee, and tea to enjoy with delicious snacks. The mugs have become a highly sought-after PSU collectable.

While First Fire is a relatively new tradition, it has staying power, as evidenced by Student Body President Avery Jones ’21. She included a 2020 First Fire mug in this year’s time capsule, slated to be opened on PSU’s 175th anniversary in 2046.

When alumni talk about their favorite Plymouth State memories, Biederman’s, or its predecessor, the Cellar Pub, is often near the top. Patti ’76 and Scott Biederman ’75 purchased the Cellar Pub in 1976.

Just like Plymouth State, Biederman’s has succeeded because it has adapted to the times. Biederman’s also thrives because of its connection to the past. Even as Plymouth State and the town of Plymouth change, students and alumni can count on a great lunch at Biederman’s. It is a must-stop for alumni at Homecoming and students with their parents during Commencement season. (It’s a bonus if your return visit to campus falls on your birthday, as you are rewarded with a free sandwich.)

Scott and Patti both credit PSU with showing the town the importance of paying tribute to the past. “People around here like to support tradition,” Patti says, and it’s true. We especially like our traditions when they are so tasty!

Photo with Robert Frost
If you weren’t on campus when Robert Frost taught at Plymouth Normal School, you can still have your picture taken with him thanks to the statue installed in front of Rounds in 2005 as part of the campus beautification campaign. New students on their Admissions Tour take a moment for a selfie with the esteemed poet, while graduates walking from the Hartman Union Building down to the ceremonies at ALLWell North routinely salute Mr. Frost as they set off on their own road less traveled.

Commencement Procession
Plymouth students have always walked to their Commencement ceremony. In 1947, the Plymouth Teachers College Prospect reported, “…the graduates, undergraduates, faculty members, led (we hope) by the college band, marched from the college to the theatre.” In earlier decades they walked from the President’s House to the Mary Lyon Lawn. This year’s combined Commencement ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021 was a return to tradition, as they were held in front of Mary Lyon for the first time since 1968.

Students gathered for First Fire
Since 1969, graduates have typically walked from Alumni Green in front of the HUB down through town across the bridge to the Holderness side of campus. The faculty in their colorful regalia lead the way as gowns fill the town and all of Plymouth unites in celebration.

For decades I have stood on the sidewalk, waiting to see the faculty and graduates parade by. The great joy of the moment is heightened by the parents and families filling the area, always happy to point out their students and tell me their Plymouth State stories. Their pride bursts forth in excited shouts and happy tears. Some of the graduates are the first in their families to graduate from college, but everyone knows how hard the graduates have worked to reach this day, and we all join together in joy.

Right: Class of 1956 PTC Commencement procession through downtown Plymouth to the Plymouth Interstate Theatre for the ceremony. Spinelli Archives
Student with statue of Robert Frost
1956 Photograph of Procession
Above: Class of 1956 PTC Commencement procession through downtown Plymouth to the Plymouth Interstate Theatre for the ceremony. Spinelli Archives
Students at PSU Day of Service
Tradition of Service
Perhaps the greatest tradition at Plymouth State is living up to our motto, Ut Prosim (That I may serve).

In conversations with alumni from the 1930s to today, I regularly hear that their Plymouth State educations changed their lives, but the change wasn’t because of books or Bunsen burners—it was the people who got them through. A faculty or staff member gave them money or a job when they needed it, or helped them to believe in themselves when they didn’t. An alumnus gave to a scholarship they received, without which they couldn’t have finished their education. A stranger joined them for a meal and a lifelong friendship formed.

As we look toward PSU’s future, it’s important to remember that these are the traditions that distinguish our experience of this school. These traditions, and new ones as well, will continue to link together the people who spend time here, whether for four years…or 44. ■ Ann Thurston ’80, ’00MBA, ’07CAGS

Editor’s note: Thurston retires this summer, capping a distinguished Plymouth State career. Learn more about her service to students and families.