When Hampshire College students pass their Division III, having completed all requirements for graduation, they can finally ring the Division Free Bell hanging in the library portico.
Among students graduating on May 16 will be Laura Vitkus 07F (pictured above). Vitkus, who is office manager for student services and has worked at Hampshire since 1995, held a bell-ringing celebration on April 28, following final approval of her Div III, “Cochlear Implants and the Future of Deaf Culture.”
When Jonathan Frank 76F passed his Div III, he felt that the college needed a way for students to celebrate such a momentous event. After graduation, he found an old brass bell (formerly belonging to a ship named the Olinda), and donated it to the college in 1981 with the request that it be hung outside the library and rung to celebrate the passing of divisional exams. After some fundraising and installation, the bell was first rung in 1982.
Although the terms of the gift did not specify that it be rung only for passing Div III, over the years a distinct mythology has grown up around the bell. There is now a strong belief that it is extremely unlucky to ring the Div Free Bell before you have passed your Div III; some even say that if you do, you will never ring it for Div III at all (that is, you will not graduate). At first the bell was kept locked, and the key could be checked out from the central records office when a student submitted the necessary paperwork, but the superstition is now so strong that this control is not needed.
Ringing the bell is a major celebration. And so it should be: passing a Division III exam at Hampshire is a major accomplishment. When you hear it ring, think of all the work involved, and wish the happy student success beginning life after Hampshire.
In 2003, the original bell developed a crack, which limited its peal to a dull thud. The bell was replaced with a newer, larger one in April 2004. So the tradition continues!