The Big C is sporting its traditional King Alfred yellow once again, after Chancellor Nicholas Dirks hiked to the top of the hill Friday morning to fulfill a promise he made last fall.
The party of blue and gold that accompanied Dirks included his wife, professor Janaki Bakhle; the two family dogs; and many members of the UC Rally Committee, who assisted the chancellor in painting the letter in preparation for Cal Day.
“Today, we have a mission that I signed up for in a fit of absence of mind,” Dirks joked in his speech before the hike. “I didn’t know where the Big C was when I promised. And I will make a confession: My initial promise was that I would run.”
With this hike to the top of the hill, Dirks fulfills his pledge for the Promise for Education, an initiative launched in September by the UC Board of Regents to crowd source scholarship money for undergraduate students. Promises ranged from bungee jumping to making cupcakes for the homeless, with Dirks agreeing to paint the Big C if he reached his fundraising goal of $10,000. Achieving and exceeding his objective within 48 hours, Dirks’ pledge raised the highest amount from the UC Berkeley campus.
Before the golden letter’s construction in 1905, however, it was tradition at UC Berkeley for the freshman and sophomore classes to participate in what was called the “class rush.” Held before Charter Day, it was the epitome of class rivalry and included several challenges. During the event, the freshman class would rush to the hillside to mark their numerals, and the sophomores would try to physically prevent it.
“They actually played King of the Hill for the entire day of March 22,” said Rally Committee chairman Ross Crockett. “After a number of years of pretty terrible physical accidents — students being injured, disfigured — then-President Benjamin Ide Wheeler decided that this was something that could not be done, so he outlawed the rush.”
After this, the united freshman and sophomore classes of 1907 and 1908 hastened to the top of the hill once again, this time to build the concrete letter, known as the Big C. In fact, it was the first collegiate hillside letter to be constructed in the United States, according to Crockett.
“It was the first act of unification amongst the student body; prior to that point, you identified more with your class than with the university,” Crockett said. “This was the first time that students of the University of California came together as one to represent not only themselves, but a spirit of camaraderie and collaboration.”