Slope Day 2022, featuring Aminé, Loud Luxury and Luna Li

Let’s Hit the Slope! Celebrating Classes’ End Is a Cornellian Tradition

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By Joe Wilensky

As another spring semester winds down, another Slope Day is set to mark the end of classes and continue a long-standing tradition—one that has evolved over more than a century, but has always had a joyous air.

The annual spring celebration traces its roots to March 1901, when a benefit concert was held to support the then-struggling Cornell Athletic Association. Preceded by a parade and “frolic on the Quadrangle,” it was held again the following April—and by 1903 had been officially named “Spring Day.”

Costumes galore for an early 1900s Spring Day
Costumes galore for an early 1900s Spring Day.

While this very early iteration was not tied to the end of classes and instead marked the close of winter, the carnival theme—featuring a parade not to be confused with the one on Dragon Day—was similar. Midday classes were even suspended for the occasion.

World War I put Spring Day on hold for two years, but it returned in 1919 with a formal ball now on the slate of activities.

Through the following decades, it morphed into Spring Weekend: a live duck race was held on Beebe Lake, a Roman theme (in 1938) saw a “Circus Maximus” staged at Schoellkopf, a Fraternity Float parade became popular, and dances in Barton Hall featured Big Band-era musicians like Glenn Miller and Jimmy Dorsey.

A massive crowd gathers for the mainstage concert, 2009
A massive crowd for the mainstage concert, 2009.

The first concert held on Libe Slope as part of Spring Weekend was in 1953, when the University Band performed; jazz concerts were often held on the Slope in the following years.

The 1960s saw Spring Weekend’s expansive footprint shrink, as student activism and unrest turned attention to graver matters; the event vanished altogether for several years.

But Barton still hosted concerts tied to Spring Weekend: Janis Joplin, James Taylor, and Mary Travers performed in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and the Cornell Concert Commission brought Seatrain, King Harvest, and Aerosmith in May 1973.

Meanwhile, the ongoing free concerts on Libe Slope grew in popularity, and in 1977 a new era began as the University branded the last-day-of-classes party on the Slope as SpringFest—with a free chicken barbecue, live music, and adult beverages.

(Since New York’s drinking age was 18 back then, nearly all undergrads could imbibe legally by the end of the academic year.)

SpringFest continued through most of the 1980s—even as the drinking age rose to 21, with the University’s alcohol policy following suit.

Cornell Store sales for SpringFest in the late ’70s
Cornell Store sales for SpringFest, late ’70s.

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In 1986, the event was formally staged on North Campus—though thousands of students disdained it in favor of an unofficial party dubbed “Take Back the Slope.”

Alcohol remained an issue: after a number of students required medical treatment during the 1987 festivities (moved back to Libe Slope and featuring blues guitarist Robert Cray), SpringFest was canceled altogether in 1988.

In 1977, a new era began as the University branded the last-day-of-classes party on the Slope as SpringFest.

By the early 1990s, an annual, far more informal celebration—not University sanctioned and now called “Slope Day”—took place at the end of the semester.

As professors Glenn Altschuler, PhD ’76, and Isaac Kramnick dryly note in Cornell: A History, 1940–2015: “Students began to skip the last day of classes and show up on the Slope already stoked and well-stocked with their own supplies.”

The University began efforts to counterprogram Slope Day, and in 1999 an alcohol-free SlopeFest was launched on West Campus, offering carnival games, rides, live music, and more. (It moved to Ho Plaza in 2006.)

The early 2000s brought partnership between student organizations and the administration: a Student Assembly-funded board oversaw programming while the University took care of fencing the area, catering food and beverages, establishing a system for legal alcohol consumption, and more.

Slope Day continues to bring big-name performers to the Hill; in recent decades, acts have included Rusted Root, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Ben Folds, the Pussycat Dolls, Drake, Nelly, Kendrick Lamar, Ludacris, and Chance the Rapper.

Snoop Dog takes the stage for Slope Day 2005
Famed rapper Snoop Dogg takes the stage in 2005.

The event (which, beginning in 2014, shifted to the day after the last day of classes) went virtual for two years due to the pandemic, but returned in 2022.

This year’s festivities—set for Wednesday, May 10—will include performances by indie alt-pop rockers COIN, electronic dance duo Snakehips, and the “demon glam rock” pair Coco & Clair Clair.

Top: Slope Day 2022 (Sreang Hok / Cornell University). All vintage images courtesy of Rare and Manuscript Collections; all modern photos by Cornell University photographers.

Published May 8, 2023

What are your fondest Slope Day memories?


  1. Gregory Garner, Class of 1984

    Always enjoyed Slope Day 1981-1984. Well, 1982 was fun in itself, but was followed by 2 intense days of Salmonella fever and delirium. Luckily, my finals were toward the end of testing week and all was well in the end.

  2. Mattie O'Brien, Class of 1988

    Disappointed your playlist has nothing from the 80s. Simply Irresistible by Cray was the best. #TakeBackTheSlope

    • Nicole von Suhr, Class of 1988

      That was the only Slope Day I really remember! Great concert and epic day 🙂

  3. Joseph Barry, Class of 1995

    Slope Day 1992 I got a free Cornell hat that flew off the head of a streaker tearing down the slope. I gifted it to a younger cousin to whom I had promised a hat. Saved me a few bucks. Thanks for the souvenir, Slope Day Streaker (who shall remain nameless)!

  4. Kirk Fry, Class of 1983

    Senior year, 1983, Dave Edmunds. “Me and the Boys.” A splendid time was had by all.

  5. Susan Anderson, Class of 1961

    No memories of a major event but the serious ’60s is mentioned in the article. I just remember relief and going home.

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