The Rally took on special significance Saturday night when Lehigh’s first-ever coed class, the Class of 1975, adopted the incoming Class of 2025 in an hour-long ceremony on the Clayton University Center lawn. It also marked the first time in the long-standing tradition that a woman alum represented a class at the ceremony.
Karen Stuckey ’75 had the honor, presenting Ethan Riester ’25, under a drizzle of rain, with both the Class of 2025 flag and a silver cup given to her class 50 years earlier by the Class of 1925.
Also at The Rally, the Class of 2024, which had a virtual adoption last year because of the pandemic, was officially welcomed to Lehigh and adopted by the Class of 1974. Robert “Gus” Gustafson ’74 represented his class as he officially presented the Class of 2024 flag to Isiah Simon ’24 and Harry Shmerler ’24.
“You first-years and sophomores should know the Class of ’74 and ’75 will be with you throughout your journey,” said Jennifer Cunningham, assistant vice president for alumni relations. “And when they celebrate their 50th reunions in 2024 and 2025, they will be present at your Commencement.”
The Rally began at 8 p.m. with the Marching 97 leading President Joe Helble ’82, senior leadership, cheerleaders, the Clutch mascot and alumni flag bearers from the classes of 1953 through 2023 in a lively procession that began at Memorial Drive. The procession flowed across the lawn area filled with Lehigh’s newest students and others, to the base of a stage where “Lehigh,” spelled out in lights, served as backdrop. Ric Hall, vice president for Student Affairs, and Cecily Ritchie ’23 were emcees.
A unique Lehigh tradition, the 50-year class adoption began decades ago with the Class of 1899 “adopting” the Class of 1949. The designs of the new class flags mirror those of the class flags from five decades earlier.
“While we celebrate our great history and tradition,” Helble told the students, “we’re focused very much on your future and setting the stage for your Lehigh experience.”
He pointed to the “outstanding faculty, a dedicated support staff, amazing hands-on learning experiences and great facilities” at Lehigh, and he encouraged the students to take advantage of the available opportunities. “Work hard. Be safe. Have fun,” he said.
Helble said the Class of 2025 is Lehigh’s largest class ever, with more than 1,500 students from 43 different states and 29 additional countries. The Class of 2024, with nearly 1,400 students, come from 43 different states and 33 additional countries, he said.
Representing the Class of 1974, Gustafson noted that the Class of 2024 had entered Lehigh during an historic pandemic. He said his class, the last all-male undergraduate class at Lehigh and the last to have mandatory physical education and Saturday classes, had arrived at the university in the midst of the Vietnam War with the last of the draft lotteries. Those situations, he said, had created “incredibly strong bonds” in the class.
“We believe you will create similarly strong bonds,” he said.
Stuckey, who was one of the 169 women who were part of Lehigh’s first coed class, said the 1971 rally was the first time that she and her fellow students had come together as a class. She said she and the other undergraduate women didn’t realize at the time that they were part of a Lehigh “experiment” with coeducation. “Nobody told us that,” she said.
“Even at The Rally though, we realized that this was a new adventure for Lehigh and maybe everyone wasn’t quite ready for us,” said Stuckey, who later served as one of Lehigh’s first woman Board of Trustees members and president of the Lehigh Alumni Association.
She said students were told to wear coats and ties to The Rally, and some of the women borrowed coats and ties to comply. Several older alumni had told the women that they had voted against Lehigh becoming coed but were nonetheless happy to meet them.
“What was special that night and has stayed the same over the years though, is that we were warmly welcomed by the Lehigh Class of 1925, and we realized for the first time how special it was not just to attend Lehigh but to be part of the Lehigh alumni body.”
Two years later, the Board of Trustees would deem the “experiment” a success, she said, and vote to permanently make Lehigh coed.
Lehigh is celebrating 50 years of coeducation with a year-long “Soaring Together” celebration marking the milestone moment in the university’s storied history.