When Wednesdays were Wonderful

When I was in high school in the early 1980s and considering where to attend college, every time I mentioned Emory, my father got a faraway look in his eyes. "That's the school where they don't have classes on Wednesdays," he would say, staring out into space. My dad had graduated from the United States Naval Academy, a rather regimented institution, and the idea of taking a vacation every hump day seemed deliciously decadent to him.

The idea appealed to me, too. And when it came time to choose a college, I decided against Tulane and Vanderbilt and went with Emory, not entirely because of Wonderful Wednesday, as it was known, but that was certainly a bonus.

My dreams of mid-week R&R, however, were only that--dreams. The quarter system that had supported Wonderful Wednesday came to an end at the close of the 1981-82 academic year, and when I showed up on campus as a freshman in the fall, Wednesdays were just like any other school day.

The now-defunct tradition began thirty years ago in the winter quarter of the 1967-68 academic year and was the brainchild of then-Dean of Emory College John C. Stephens '37C-'38G. The mid-week break, he reasoned, would encourage students to engage in independent study and give them an opportunity to spend more time on their assignments. By doing so, students would come to class better prepared, and the quality of in-class discussions and research papers would increase.

According to a 1969 survey, "Wonderful Wednesday: An Approach to Independent Study," the plan was a success. "Some students have indicated that for the first time they have been able to complete all the reading assignments," the report stated. "This would tie in with the observations of about one-third of the faculty, who have reported more careful preparation of class assignments, greater independent thinking with regard to course material, increased interest in subject, and increased class attendance."

A number of unusually candid students who were interviewed stated that it also afforded them "a chance to sleep later than usual." Wonderful Wednesday was thus a win-win situation, and one year after the program was instituted, 83 percent of the faculty who cast a ballot voted to continue the practice.

Wonderful Wednesday became one of the University's most beloved traditions, and students were upset when it was discontinued upon Emory's conversion to the semester system. On June 2, 1982, the final Wonderful Wednesday, 2,283 Emory students gathered on the Upper Field to "Toast Away Wonderful Wednesday." In the process, a world record was set for the largest non-alcoholic toast (naturally, Coca-Cola was the celebratory beverage).

According to an article in Emory's yearbook, The Campus, "Never before in recent years had Emory seen such total participation in a University event." William H. Fox '79PhD, then-vice president and dean for Campus Life and current vice president led one of the toasts. "I thought it was one of the greatest events I've ever seen at Emory," he said. "One of the greatest community experiences."--J.D.T.

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