RAPID CITY - Forty six years ago, his South Dakota School of Mines & Technology senior hat hid a head of boyish brown hair. This week, alumnus Douglas Aldrich stood on campus and slid the same hat over a head of white and smiled.
"(When) I was here, this hat was a source of pride and accomplishment," he said. "It was what the freshman all looked forward to."
According to a tradition at the South Dakota engineering school dating as far back in yearbooks as the 1940s, freshman have been wearing beanies the first few weeks of school as way to pay respect to seniority and allow themselves to be identified if they might need directions or help on campus.
According to stories passed down, freshman used to tip their beanies to the senior students they encountered. The seniors themselves were also wearing a distinguishing accessory - a decorated senior hat.
Tipping the hat in respect might no longer be, but wearing beanies and hats the first couple weeks of school is a tradition alive and well, current M-Week co-chairwoman Liz Roberts said.
According to Roberts, the freshman beanie is green and yellow - the colors of Black Hills State University because "the logic is that our freshman are as smart as their graduating seniors."
Aldrich remembers the roots of the tradition a little differently.
He said he attended Mines when half the class was made up of returning Korean War veterans and "green freshman."
"We wore the beanies religiously the first six weeks of class," he said. "We were intimidated by the veterans. They were more mature, poised and experienced. When they asked you where your beanie was, you made sure you had it on. I was told the (beanies) were green because we were so green; it was supposed to keep us humble."
Wearing the senior hat also symbolized being part of an elite group that made it to graduation.
"They told us at orientation: 'Look to the left; look to the right. They'll both be gone by the time you graduate," Aldrich recalled. "That was the attrition then."
Graduation numbers are much higher now, and the incoming freshman hit 358 this semester - just one more reason to celebrate school pride with the headwear, Keegan said.
You have free articles remaining.
The beanies and senior hats are worn from the time they are given out during welcoming week until halftime of the homecoming game Saturday, when the "frosh" will take one lap around the track, mobilize themselves into a giant M on the field and sing the school song.
"At that point, they are no longer 'frosh,' but freshman," he said.
Garrett Monson sat in class this week, green beanie resting on his head.
"I'll wear it until Saturday, when I get to be a respectable freshman," he said, grinning. "The tradition is great."
Monson said he has five older siblings who have all attended different colleges, but none of those has done as many school spirit activities as Tech.
For Alex Brech, it's been a way to get help easily.
"It hasn't been negative," he said.
Mike Keegan, the coordinator of student activities and leadership on campus, said that's exactly what school officials want it to be - fun and helpful. He said the only rite of initiation freshman might have to endure is singing "the beanie song, which is a really fun thing."
For Aldrich, the hats mean so much more.
"We wore them all the time," he said. "Partly to keep our head warm, partly to keep the pride going."
Kayla Gahagan can be reached at 394-8410 or email@example.com