Cheerleaders to Community Leaders: The History of the Blue Key Heads

George W. Bush (front) with the other Blue Key Heads of ’64.

It’s difficult to imagine a former United States of America President touting a Blue Key Head skirt — but in 1964, George W. Bush did just that. Serving as “Head Cheerleader,” a role that would eventually evolve into what we now know as the Blue Key Heads, his presence in Blue Key Head history reveals a fascinating narrative.

Andover’s Blue Key program began in 1954 with a group of 35 student mentors. Adapted from Princeton’s University’s “Orange Key” mentorship program, the Senior-exclusive Blue Key Society aimed to guide new students through their transition to campus life. Separate from the Society were the Blue Key Heads, student spirit leaders who replaced the role of Head Cheerleader in the 1960s. Initially a mark of distinction with minimal responsibilities, Blue Keys have since transformed into symbols of school spirit and student leadership, passing the skirts down through generations of students.

In addition to the Blue Keys, another orientation tradition at Andover was “prepping.” Typically, Seniors would assign tasks such as shining shoes or carrying bags and books to underclassmen. By the 1960s, the school had begun to reevaluate and eliminate these practices at Andover. Furthermore, in 1999, the exclusivity of the Blue Key Society ended when the administration required the Society to admit lowerclassmen. A 1999 editorial in The Phillipian protested this as the denial of “one of the most visible senior privileges.”

In the 1970s, the Blue Key Society merged with the Blue Key Heads into one organization. Upon the founding of the cluster system, the administration turned to the Blue Key Heads as cluster leaders. However, in 2008, Blue Key Heads no longer represented individual clusters and were selected school-wide based on merit. Paul Murphy ’84, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, commented on this structural change.

“There was a concern at one point that the spirit leaders of the school didn’t necessarily come nicely from each cluster, so it became selecting ten at large from the whole school… Maybe one cluster would have a hard time getting two kids to want to be Blue Key Heads. It just made more sense to go school-wide with it,” said Murphy.

As their responsibilities focused increasingly on all-school events, the Blue Key Heads’ involvement in cluster-specific activities waned. Moving beyond sports events, Blue Key Heads now participate in a wider variety of events to foster community at Andover, according to current Blue Key Head Spencer Salhanick ’24. 

“The Blue Key Heads have transitioned over the years from being sports-oriented, going to games, to being involved with talent shows and taking part in dance groups. We [also] help with the admissions office and charities. Over the years it’s transitioned from being sports-oriented to being [more community-centered],” said Salhanick.

Sebastian Valasek ’24, another Blue Key Head, noted the administration’s increased involvement in school-wide events this year. He commented on the new restrictions imposed on traditionally student-led events.

“This time around, based on my conversations with Blue Key Heads from last year, it seems like the administration and the Deans have taken a greater interest in how we run certain things…This year, almost any time we were doing something that involved the whole school, whether it be [Andover/Exeter] or Orientation Week or Spirit Week, the Deans would always want to meet with all of us and pick at all of our ideas and make sure that all of it abided by what they thought was best,” said Valasek. 

Valasek continued, “A tradition of audition week is where Blue Key Heads act towards prospective Blue Key Heads in a way that is a little bit more on edge than you typically expect, and we don’t think that we can continue that tradition. Things like that are a little bit disappointing, that we seem to not have the backing of the administration to continue doing things that I think are fun and good for the school.” 

Despite various changes over time, the Blue Key Heads’ core purpose has remained the same. Molly MacKinnon ’24, a current Blue Key Head, reiterated their mission at Andover. 

“The ultimate goal [of the Blue Key Heads has] definitely stayed the same over the years because the goal is just to raise school spirit on campus and to put a smile on people’s faces. We’re pretty goofy and we make fun of ourselves a lot. We’re not really afraid to embarrass ourselves but we embrace that role, and it’s for the rest of the student body so that everyone has a better day after they see us. If someone’s having a bad day and we’re playing music on the paths around them, I’d like to think that they’ll feel better,” said MacKinnon.



1999 editorial: