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Maypole wrapped for 130th year at Brenau
Gainesville university celebrates students, alumnae at annual event
Joyce Hunt, left, Brenau University class of 1965, chats Saturday with Judy Fontenot, class of 1967, at Brenau University's Alumnae Reunion and May Day Weekend. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

For the "Golden Girls" of Brenau University Women's College class of 1959, Saturday's traditional May Day festivities brought back memories of a much different time.

Floral print dresses and wide-brimmed hats have replaced the all-white dresses worn by students back in the 1950s, when the college graduated mostly teachers and secretaries and young women had to be escorted if they ventured off-campus.

"It's totally changed now," said Judith Campbell of Memphis, Tenn. who has fond memories of her Brenau years despite the strict rules she lived under then. "These girls don't know how good they've got it."

More than 400 alumni and their families gathered Saturday to watch the presentation of the May Queen court and attendants and the traditional wrapping of the maypole, an event dating to the college's founding in 1878, which marks the transition of students graduating or ascending in class.

"It really is a timeless tradition," said this year's May Queen, Jessica Alexander, a broadcast journalism major who arrived with her father in a horse-drawn carriage. "Even when some of the students don't know how it all began, it brings everyone together."
Among the queen's attendants was Gwira Uwineza, a marketing major from Rwanda.

"I felt so honored to be included in something that has been here for so many years," Uwineza said.

Shuchang Liu of China took part in another Brenau tradition, the climbing of the crow's nest, on Friday. As is custom, the women's college seniors ascend to the top steps of a platform and are serenaded by the juniors, then hand their graduation robes to their younger peers and switch places.

"I felt very proud when I climbed up there," Shuchang said. "It unites each grade as a sisterhood. We are all connected together."

For alumni returning to campus, the weekend was a chance to catch up with old classmates and see how the college is meeting today's challenges, class of 1967 graduate Judy Davis Fontenot said.

The procession of students in formal blue dresses reflected a diversity of enrollment not seen at the college in 1959 or 1967.
"It's really exciting for it to be a multicultural school now," Fontenot said. "It's the way the world is."

For the May Queen, her May Day experience didn't end Saturday.

"I can't wait until next year when I'm an alum and I can come back," she said.

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