River Day’s rich tradition creates community
President Eric Turner and Maria Carmo de Castro pose with the River Day trophy. Photo by Hanna Babek
Although most Lasers know the boat races as a staple of Friends, Family and Alumni Weekend (FFAW), the history of the races long precedes FFAW. The first canoe races were held in 1882 when the first Boat Club was created. River Day was held on the first weekend of June for the majority of the nineteenth century, and eventually rescheduled to late May. In 1972, when the spring semester was shortened, the races were moved to the fall term.
Today, the boat races are an opportunity for students, families, alumni, and faculty to participate in a friendly competition, as well as a tradition that is over a century old. The race takes place out of Stoller Boathouse, and teams of four to six race a short distance in the Charles River throughout the day using a bracket to determine the final race. Lasell Radio, WLAS, has a DJ booth during the event, and new this year, a food truck provided tacos and burritos to attendees. The victorious team wins a River Day Champion trophy, but Director of Student Activities and Orientation, Thomas Morgan, said the day is about more than winning the race.
“It's just a great day just to celebrate being back at Lasell; [for alumni,] seeing people that they haven't seen in years, for students to also engage in a tradition and feel like they're part of something bigger than them, knowing that you're taking part in a tradition that's been here for so long,” Morgan said.
Despite the longevity of the races, Morgan said not much has changed since their founding. The focus is on the races and spending time with loved ones, which Morgan said is part of the appeal. “In a way it hasn’t really evolved because it’s something that people can come back to year after year and enjoy, and know that it will evoke that sense of community that [students and alumni] loved about their time at Lasell,” Morgan said.
Recently, a group of alumni contacted Morgan and explained they had participated in River Day when they were students in the 1970s. They were happy to hear the tradition has been carried on and remained the same.
“From their perspective, it looks to be the same. So they were really excited to participate because it’s something that they did as college students and could still come back and do it in the same way that it was done then, and bring back a lot of fond memories of their time at Lasell,” Morgan said.
This year, 12 teams competed for the River Day trophy, with Tony’s Team (Maria Carmo de Castro, James B. Jr., Diane B., and James B. Sr.) winning the final race.
Morgan said traditions such as River Day are important to create and maintain a sense of community within a school.
“For current students, it's an opportunity to feel like you're a part of something bigger that you are taking part in a tradition that has been around for a long time, and that you're just a part of the university's history by taking part in this event that's happened for so long,” Morgan said.
Morgan believes this idea of tradition uniting Lasell across generations is what draws people to River Day.
“There's that rich tradition of continuity, but then also for the alumni that come back and know that we're still doing this and that they can continue taking part in this. And it's just a reminder of the fact that the Lasell community is so big, and that you’re always welcome back to Lasell,” Morgan said.