In Depth

Before Being Blue, Keys Were Orange

Today, Blue Key Head is one of the most coveted positions on campus. Although the position still endows a sense of status and responsibility, the role has evolved considerably throughout Phillips Academy’s history. Phillips Academy adopted the predecessor to the current Blue Key Society in the 1950’s. Cynthia Efinger, Director of Student Activities, said the Dean of Students adapted the Princeton University “Orange Key” mentoring system for new students to PA in order to help them better acclimate to the environment. Victor Henningsen ’69, Instructor in History and Social Science, remembered another long-standing Phillips orientation tradition to promote grade pride and cohesion – “prepping,” which he defined as a “sanctioned opportunity for Seniors to make underclassmen’s lives miserable.” Henningsen says he was “lucky,” since he only had to polish a banister with a bottle of lemon Pledge while other classmates were forced to push pickles down the length of the Flagstaff quad. Generally, tasks consisted of Seniors forcing ninth-grade students to shine shoes or carry bags and books. However, by the 60’s, systems that reinforced privilege were under evaluation, and prepping had virtually disappeared when he graduated in 1969. The Blue Key Society existed independently outside of this mentorship, and although the Blue Key positions were a mark of distinction, the students had few responsibilities. Blue Key Heads did not become part of the Blue Key Society until the 1970s, when the administration wanted student leaders to develop the current cluster system. At the time, the Head Cheerleaders were elected student spirit leaders.. United States President George W. Bush served as the PA Head Cheerleader in 1964. Blue Key Heads, with their enormous amount of PA pride and spirit, most closely resemble the school’s old system of the Head Cheerleaders. The PA step team, SLAM, which stands for Spirit Leader of Andover Madness, is occasionally misconstrued as the 2008 equivalent of PA cheerleaders. “SLAM is not a cheerleading group,” SLAM Co-Head Dacone Elliot said, and Stephanie Xu, Co-Head of SLAM for next year, said that a majority of the club’s focus is on performing at PA events rather than cheering in athletic settings. According to Henningsen, class spirit and identity existed independently of student spirit leadership, as a result of PA’s “rigorously categorized” environment, where there was little mixing between the classes. Ruth Quattlebaum, Phillips Academy Archivist, identified a significant change in the amount of school spirit that PA students exhibit today compared with past decades. “Only about a third of the school goes to the Andover-Exeter football game,” she said, whereas in earlier decades “everyone used to go.” Quattlebaum also cited other old PA spirit traditions that no longer exist. The student body engaged in intra-scholastic sports competitions as Romans, Greeks, Saxons, and Gauls, a division that eventually morphed into the cluster system and cluster competitions. Abbot Academy had a similar system of scholastic sports competitions between Gargoyles and Griffins, along with spirit leaders and field days. She said that when Phillips Academy to become co-educational, the majority of the Abbot traditions were lost, but she did say that the school “reconfigured the traditions of Phillips to be more inclusive after the leveling influence of female presence.” According to Efinger, she and the outgoing Blue Key Heads spoke before the interviews to define hazing and formulate appropriate questions that would be sensitive to the hazing issue.