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  • History of the Knights of St. Patrick

    The tradition of celebrating St. Patrick's Day on engineering campuses began in 1903 at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Though the stories as to exactly how this tradition began to differ slightly, the facts of this first celebration can be related in this way:

    In March of 1903, several upperclassmen were lamenting the fact that their studies had occupied their time continuously since the beginning of the spring term. One of them realized that the next day was St. Patrick's Day, and promptly declared that St. Patrick was an engineer because he freed Ireland of the snakes - a feat which they claimed could only have been accomplished by an engineer. This individual further proposed that, in honor of this fact, the student body should cut classes on the following day. The walk-out was carried out with astonishing success and almost completely depleted the University's classrooms of all her engineering students. The participants, however, did meet with resistance from the University's administration.

    In 1905, the activities of St. Patrick's Day were modified so as to make the day more of a celebration than a protest, a fact that gained the revelers a measure of leniency from the deans and faculty of the College. In that year, one student disguised himself as St. Pat and knighted all the students as they bowed before him, touching their faces to the ground. In the following year, this ceremony was modified slightly by knighting the representatives of St. Patrick as Knights, summa cum laude, while still knighting all other seniors simply as Knights. An Honorary Knight was also added in this year.

    Other traditions that surrounded these early years of St. Patrick's Day celebrations were: The Guard of St. Patrick, representative of St. Patrick organizations at various colleges around the country, that met annually to discuss St. Patrick traditions; The Shamrock, a pamphlet devoted to the St. Pat celebration; The Blarney Stone, trusted to the representative of St. Patrick for use in the knighting ceremony; and The Lady of St. Pat, to allow women to be honored by St. Patrick. Since those first days, St. Patricks's Day (or any appropriate weekend in March) has been a time of celebration among engineering colleges throughout the United States.

    The tradition began in 1950 at the University of Illinois with the selection of the first set of Knights. The first Honorary Knight was selected in 1958. Knights are selected from undergraduates with at least a 2.5 GPA (out of 4.0) who show strong leadership in their department, the College, and their profession. The Knights have maintained many of the traditions of their own. The tradition of pulling pranks on the College administration is a continued tradition, reflecting the conflict with administrators that surrounded the first participants in the St. Patrick's celebration. Engineering students from Illinois also honor St. Patrick by presenting Engineering Open House and St. Pat's Ball.