Pencil Cake Celebrates the First Day of School
The annual tradition continued despite the pandemic
Dr. Chelsea Mead’s mother started the Pencil Cake tradition in 1990 when she started Kindergarten. Every first day of school, her mother would bake a cake in the shape of a pencil and decorate it with her name and then later her sibling's names and what grades they were in. They always took a picture of them with the cake and invited their friends over to share in the pencil cake on that first day of school. Dr. Mead did this from kindergarten all the way through her senior year. When she went away to college at Central Michigan University, they continued the tradition. Her mother called and ordered a cake from the local bakery. Dr. Mead gathered new friends from her dorm and they shared pencil cake to celebrate their first day of college classes. Every year they continued the tradition as she went through college and each year people who had joined in the previous year would come back. Her friends knew and expected the pencil cake celebration.
Throughout the years she has sometimes made her own cake and sometimes ordered it from a bakery. The thread throughout the years is the joy of education, the fresh feeling and fun that comes with starting a new year, and the connection with each other all pursing learning and growth. Sometimes the cake stayed in the shape of a pencil, sometimes it just had a pencil on top but the joy is the same. This year to reduce contact, Dr. Mead did pencil cupcakes for students.
The pencil cake is always shared with others. In graduate school, Dr. Mead shared it with fellow graduate students. What's wonderful about pencil cake is that during undergraduate and graduate school, her friends always knew that the first day was pencil cake day. Even when they lived in different dorms the second year or people had moved off-campus, they all got back together to share some cake. What's kind of neat to her is that friends from her college years have taken pencil cake and made it part of their own celebrations for their families and communities. A friend from college who works in Park and Recreation Services planned a pencil cake celebration for their community in Ohio. Some have become parents and make pencil cakes for their own kids now who are going to school.
When Dr. Mead came to Minnesota State University, Mankato, she continued the tradition. She started in 2013, so this year was eighth year of doing the Pencil Cake tradition with her students. She shares the cake/cupcakes with the last class that she teaches on the first day of classes (AIS or Anthropology classes). Students who have experienced the pencil cake tradition in previous years often come by to snag some cake again or come by her office to pick up piece and chat. Each class takes a picture with the cake before they share it with each other, and those images are shared on our FB pages. It's just a fun way to celebrate the first day of class. What she gets a ton of joy out of is that this tradition has taken a life of its own with other people sharing it now with others and students remember the experience. She often hears from alumni and former students commenting on the photos and just staying connected.
This year a few alumni wrote comments on her pencil cake posts.
"I remember my first class with you walking in with a Pencil cake. Love that you still do it. Minnesota State Mankato is lucky to have you. "
"I wish I could have come."
Dr. Mead is still in touch with many former students who got to experience pencil cake.
As Minnesota State University, Mankato approached the new semester with Hyflex course delivery, she contemplated whether pencil cake should continue or not. Ultimately, she decided the tradition needed to continue. She needed a little bit of light and icing to start the year off right. This year's class that experienced pencil cake was the SBS's First Year Experience course. They held class on the lawn and practiced social distancing together but still had some joy.