Prize Day: An Evolving Tradition

Choate’s school year wraps up each spring with an awards ceremony known as Prize Day, which celebrates the achievements of exemplary students in all four forms. This year, Prize Day will take place on Friday, April 26, two days before Commencement — which was not always the case.

Prize Day traces back to the late 1800s. At Rosemary Hall, the name meant, essentially, graduation: students would receive their diplomas as seniors and that year’s prizes were awarded. The name “Prize Day” was coined because, as Choate Archivist, Ms. Judy Donald, recently put it, “a lot of prizes were given out.”

During the same time period, the Choate School held a graduation and awards ceremony called, simply and more traditionally, Commencement. The first merged graduation ceremony of the two previously single-sex schools was held in the spring of 1978, when the largest dilemma was how to blend the various prizes from the Choate School and Rosemary Hall.

Now, Choate Rosemary Hall has taken aspects of each of its predecessors, keeping the Choate School’s name of Commencement to refer to the annual graduation ceremony, and using Rosemary Hall’s tradition, Prize Day, to honor student achievement. The tradition of emblazoning wooden plaques with the winners’ names — many of these panels  currently hang in the Dining Hall — likewise dates to the beginning of the two schools’ joint history.

According to Ms. Donald, Rosemary Hall began its Prize Day with a small amount of awards given out yearly. As the population and demographic of Choate Rosemary Hall expanded, so did the number of prizes. Currently, there are ten sixth-form prizes, four prizes each for the third, fourth, and fifth forms, eleven for the Arts Department, six for the English Department, nine for the History, Philosophy, Religion, and Social Sciences Department, eleven for the Language Department, seven for the Mathematics and Computer Science Department, nine for the Physical Education and Athletics Department, seven for the Science Department, and three Special Awards. This year, for the first time, prizes will not be awarded separately for boys and girls.

Prize Day is meaningful not only to students, but also to parents, relatives, and faculty members as a celebration of the Choate community’s achievements. Each year, at the end of the graduation ceremony, the school’s communications department, with help from The Choate News, distributes a printed list of that year’s prizewinners, that year’s inductees into the Cum Laude Society, and the names of the colleges and universities that graduating seniors will attend.

Even though the amount of prizes has increased over the years, the core values that make a prizewinner have remained the same. Choate Rosemary Hall has held the same ethics of “Fidelity and Integrity” for decades, and the character of each student selected for an award has not waned.

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