A Brief History of Parmi Nous
The 24-year administration of President George Atherton marked the emergence of a modern college in the academic sense and was a time when extracurricular activities came of age. Now free from compulsory labor and religious activities, the student body chartered many clubs, and professional and fraternal organizations. Class sprit was very important to the student body, and freshmen were often challenged by upperclassmen to class scraps. A scrap was a good-natured, but often brutal encounter between large numbers of freshmen and sophomores. Hazing of freshmen and a formal set of freshman customs had not yet become widespread. In their absence, the scraps helped to initiate incoming students into the life of the college.
The Presidency of Edwin Sparks started in 1908. Sparks was extremely popular with students and fostered student self-government. He helped formulate a series of whimsical customs devised to make freshmen conscious of their status without wreaking havoc on the academic routine. Freshmen were expected to wear green dinks, avoid conversing with young women, keep off the grass, smoke only in private, obtain supplies for athletic bonfires and pep rallies, and otherwise conduct themselves with reverence toward the upperclassmen.
Sparks looked towards the strong upper-class leaders of Parmi Nous, as well as the other newly formed HAT societies, to enforce the freshmen customs, maintain good fellowship between classes, assist at home athletic events, and cooperate with the Student Tribunal in preserving Penn State traditions. From its founding in 1907 until World War II, members of Parmi Nous served as orientation leaders to the Frosh. Freshmen would meet in small groups at the start of each academic years with Hatmen to learn Penn State customs, traditions, and songs. The Hatmen would run through residential halls, rally the frosh to attend pep rallies, orientation mixers and dances, and other university sponsored events. Freshmen who did not comply with the traditions would find punishment from the new student government.
By the 1930s, eight HAT societies existed on campus, but Parmi Nous holds the title of being the oldest. Founded by Thomas Piolet in 1907, Parmi Nous was established as a honorary upper class society composed of outstanding men who had been awarded a major letter for participation in varsity athletics or for work as a manager of a varsity sport. The current active members chose new members of the society on Tap Day, during the annual Move Up exercises. Tappees had to wear their placards as they marched around campus for several weeks during the initiation process. Many traditions have come and gone for the initiation, but the emphasis of humble campus service has always been an important component to the process.
Many HAT societies became inactive during World War II and Parmi Nous would be re-established with alumni support in 1943. The society distinguished itself as leadership in school spirit by planning pep rallies, assisting cheerleaders at football games, greeting the football team on the field during home games, and marching through the streets before athletic events to rally student support and spirit. The group broadened its mission in 1950 by inducting student leaders from athletics, dramatics, publications, forensics, and student government. A point and quota system was established to ensure that membership in Parmi Nous was for the most selfless and deserving student leaders.
For the next few decades, membership in Parmi Nous was a public affair. Hatmen would ware symbols of their membership on their heads and applications to be considered for tapping were made available to the campus community. These new generations of student leaders would continue the traditions of their predecessors, while exploring new programs of service and outreach. Members of Parmi Nous supported the Alumni Association in membership drives, supported many of the great homecoming traditions, and sponsored deserving high school seniors to attend a Summer Leadership Camp to help further the qualities of leadership in future students at Penn State. The societies mission continued to grow and in 1972 women were tapped for the first time as leaders in Parmi Nous.
Only in its most recent history has membership in Parmi Nous become a more secret honor. While members may not be wearing their hats in public anymore, the society continues to play a central role in the life of the university. Parmi Nous has participated in many impact projects including Lions Share, the Special Olympics, and the Dance Marathon. The group has supported the alumni association with fundraising phone-a-THONs and for many years was able to keep in touch with its alumni through a Nousletter. Today we continue to support the Renaissance Scholarship Fund and fundraising for the Parmi Nous Obelisk Garden.
The members often act in secrecy to promote humble service. The impact projects and social activities with rival group Skull and Bones have forged lasting traditions of honor and pride to the many leaders who have worn the hat. While the societies membership and reach have changed and grown over the years, its mission remains the same, to support the university and instill Penn State pride in the community it serves.
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