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    • Banners on display at a past Commencement ceremony. Photo by Jody Rosenthal.

    • The team of students tasked with creating this year;s banner. Top row, from left to right: Yasmin Bergemann ’20, Eva Brander-Blackhawk ’20, Juliette Glass ’20, Eva Illuzzi ’20, Cici Liu ’20. Bottom row, from left to right: Lily Kaise ’20, Burton Lyng-Olsen ’20, Julia Tellides ’20, Olivia Wen ’20, Anna Zimolo ’20. Photos courtesy of Highpoint Pictures.

Seniors Struggle to Carry On Banner Tradition

Zach Williamson ’22 Lead Arts Editor
With the Hopkins community thrust into uncertain territory amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, beloved senior traditions are in limbo.
One major roadblock presented is for a time-honored Hopkins custom: the senior banner. 

The senior banner is a long-standing tradition at Hopkins. The senior class of 1941 created the first banner. Each year since, a banner with a unique theme and a list of the graduating seniors has been unveiled at the Prize Day ceremony. 

 This year's group of seniors in charge of creating the banner is unusually large. The team consists of Yasmin Bergemann ’20, Eva Brander-Blackhawk ’20, Juliette Glass ’20, Cici Liu ’20, Burton Lyng-Olsen ’20, Julia Tellides ’20, Anna Zimolo ’20, Eva Illuzi ’20, Lily Kaiser ’20, and Olivia Wen ’20. All are in this year’s iteration of Fine Art III and have been considering the best way to approach this year’s design. R.C Sayler, who teaches the course, described why Fine Arts III students create the banner, though it is not technically part of the curriculum: “Fine Art III is traditionally an independent study of sorts. Students are producing their own portfolio of work which then is showcased at the end of the year in the senior exhibition in the gallery. Traditionally students in Fine Art III are pursuing painting, so there’s an overlap, that the banner takes the form of a painting.”

According to Sayler, the brainstorming process for the banner typically starts midway through Term II, when students “talk about themes that have emerged throughout their four years.” He made it clear that his role was simply to set up students with the supplies they needed, not to design the banner: “I’m just a coordinator, and I make sure they have the materials and supplies they need, a space to do it, and then I also hold them accountable.”

Discussions for the banner have taken place on Zoom, and students have been “coming up with virtual plans for the banner by designing a digital sketch and planning out its dimensions and general appearance,” said Liu. She continued: “The virtual version will be converted into a physical, painted copy whenever we’re allowed to do so.” Originally, the idea to “produce the banner solely online and with virtual art” was raised, said Bergemann, “After Mr. Roberts reassured us all that we would indeed still have an in-person graduation (whenever that may be) we decided to come up with the idea and a plan detailing the specifics, and then produce it physically as soon as we are able to be together.” Brander-Blackhawk noted the significance of keeping up the banner tradition: “It was important to us to keep the tradition and to create something we’ve been looking forward to for years.” When social distancing ends, the banner will be created in some way, “probably [next to campus] in the [Penn] Fellows house garage,” said Sayler. 

In planning discussions, students were split on how best to proceed. Brander-Blackhawk described the brainstorming process: “Some people in the class wanted to focus on online learning and isolation because it’s what (somewhat) ruined our senior year and graduation. Other people wanted to avoid the topic and stay positive, focusing on the other four years of our high school experience.” Sayler reinforced Brander-Blackhawk’s sentiments:“They’ve had a lot of other memories about the last four years, so there was a lot of discussion about how much influence this situation should have on their banner, which is also why they’ve chosen to produce it in a traditional way. They don’t want to do it piecemeal, where everybody designs a piece and they bring it together. They want to maintain consistency.” 

The students in Fine Art III are working diligently to make sure the tradition is carried out in the best way possible. While the theme of the banner is meant to remain secret until its unveiling, Brander-Blackhawk described it as one that “perfectly shows how I wanted my high school [career] to end, but also shows the reality of what happened, while staying positive and with a focus on artistic aesthetics.” 

Brander-Blackhawk summed up, “It’s devastating to lose the ‘senior spring’ that everyone talks about. I’ve worked so hard for six years just to see the fun rewards disappear. I know I’m lucky to have a house and to be healthy, but it’s hard to not feel sad about losing things as big as senior prom and graduation.” Despite everything, the perseverance of the senior banner team is a testament to the Hopkins community’s ability to adapt and overcome. According to Liu, “I can say for sure that we will have a coherent and beautiful banner like no other on the way that represents us as the senior class. What we came up with is perfect and definitely one of a kind - we cannot wait to show everyone. 2020 will certainly be a year to remember.”
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