The sun was yet to rise and most of campus was fast asleep, but at 6:30 a.m. on Friday, April 20, MSU's Beaumont Tower was buzzing with activity as the 2012-2013 Tower Guard class was inducted in traditional fashion at the 78th annual May Morning Sing.
May Morning Sing claims its name from the days of Tower Guard's founding in the 1930s, before the semester class structure placed finals in early May. Senior members of the then all-female organization would "trap" new Tower Guards and pass down their tassels and caps to the juniors who would replace them as board members the following fall. The freshman members, chosen to carry on the group's mission of service to others, received red and gold ribbons, representing the Tower Guard's signature colors, brick and straw.
Tower Guard, now a co-ed honors and service organization of approximately 75 from the top 5% of the sophomore class, still celebrates May Morning Sing. Though the ceremony often takes place in April, the group upholds the tradition of gathering incoming members and their families at Beaumont Tower in the early morning for a surprise induction ceremony. Thanks to a performance from the Spartan Dischords, song is still a big part of the morning as well.
Two new Tower Guard members are led to the tower while blind-folded to maintain the element of surprise. Photo by Mackenzie Mohr
Biochemistry and molecular biology freshman Patrick Vaughan thought he was going to the tower to sing happy birthday to a surprised friend. He was the surprised one when he learned the gathering was his own Tower Guard induction. His mother, Cathy Vaughan, drove in from Rochester, NY just for the occasion and said she was very impressed with his accomplishment after researching Tower Guard and discovering the prestige of the longstanding group.
At the tower and subsequent welcome breakfast, inductees learn about their upcoming opportunities and responsibilities in partnership with the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities. Each Tower Guard class contributes over 7,000 hours of service to the RCPD, converting textbooks to accessible formats, like Braille or electronic text, and reading tests to individuals with visual impairments and learning disabilities.
The 75 members of this year's Tower Guard class were selected based on the traditional criteria of leadership, scholarship, service and character.
"Though Tower Guard has been through some changes over the many years, these 4 pillars hold strong and true in every last Tower Guard member since the time of our founding, making us the strong organization we continue to be today," Tower Guard Vice President Daniel Totzkay said during a speech at the tower.
Totzkay went on to explain to the surprised and sleepy crowd that they were joining an elite few as part of the oldest active campus group, and the experience would directly benefit fellow students while offering new perspectives for themselves.
"Tower Guard is about making a difference in our community, about expressing your passion in a very real and effective way," Totzkay said.
Michigan State University administrators took the opportunity to congratulate new members and inspire them to continue the timeless tradition of service the group is known for. MSU Trustee Brian Breslin, Board of Trustees Vice Chairperson Melanie Foster and Interim Vice President of Student Affairs and Services Dr. Denise Maybank formed a receiving line with RCPD Director Michael Hudson at the tower and shook hands with each new Tower Guard member after they were inducted.
Melanie Foster, Dr. Denise Maybank and Michael Hudson form a receiving line to congratulate new Tower Guard members. Photo by Mackenzie Mohr
Tower Guards and their family members or friends who coordinated the surprise enjoyed a breakfast together at the Union after the ceremony. The program featured speakers from MSU, the RCPD and outgoing Tower Guard members.
President Lou Anna K. Simon spoke of responsibility to collective good and urged Spartans to use their knowledge on the behalf of other people and for the betterment of the world. She commended Tower Guard for representing these ideals.
Dr. Denise Maybank thanked Tower Guard for their direct involvement in extending learning opportunities to students with disabilities.
"You make it possible for other Spartans to be successful," Maybank said.
Dr. Lee June, former Associate Provost and Vice President of Student Affairs, compared the attitude of Tower Guard members to that of Martin Luther King Jr. June encouraged Tower Guards to approach their service endeavors with a selfless commitment to others.
Students also heard from their fellow Spartans, currently utilizing the alternative format textbooks and testing they make available.
"Reading a test means everything to me because it helps me understand the content more quickly and more clearly," senior Marissa Poe said.
"I always had the ability to succeed, but you help me show it."
Supply Chain Management freshman Karilynn Burks already understands the value in the service she will provide to others like Poe.
"Instead of just something on my resume, this is actually worthwhile," Burks said.
Her friend and now fellow Tower Guard member, human biology major Lauren Foster also feels passionate about the work she will do. She wants to be an optometrist and said she could not pass up the chance to directly support students with visual impairments.
Regardless of what degrees these new Tower Guard members earn, they all enrich their education with service to Spartans with disabilities. Every student grows as they pursue an MSU degree, but for these select 75, the experience is even more unique. Their lives will be fortified with new perspectives gained from working with others different from themselves for the common goals of learning and excellence.