Retro Mason: Mason Day

crowd listening to a live band
Students at Mason Day Moonlight Party with DJ Sean Falco in Lot L at George Mason University. Photo by Craig Bisacre/Creative Services

If we were to pick one singular long-standing tradition at George Mason University, Mason Day would come out on top.The first Mason Day took place four years before the university’s first Commencement, and it’s been the event to look forward to ever since. Few things in Mason’s history have so consistently united the campus community.

Five Fun Facts about Mason Day

bw of students chasing a pig
In 1967, Mason students chased a greased pig on Mason Day—and Channel 9 came to cover the event. Photo from the April 21, 1967, Gunston Ledger, courtesy of Special Collections Research Center, University Libraries

1. It came from a University of Virginia tradition. In 1965, as a branch campus of UVA, George Mason College celebrated its first Founders Day (Thomas Jefferson’s birthday) on April 13. Yet the college couldn’t resist honoring George Mason on the very next day, April 14. Just a few years later, the college skipped TJ’s birthday altogether and celebrated only Mason Day on Friday of that week.

bw photo of students with tents
There was no on-campus housing for students before 1977 so students pitched tents and did spend the night during Mason Day. Photo by Kerry Miller/Broadside, from the Broadside Photograph Collection, Special Collections Research Center, University Libraries

2. It was a nonstop party in the 1970s. During the 1970s, Mason Day moved away from soft drinks and informal speeches and became a mini-Woodstock, where bands played into the night and the beer flowed freely. By the late 1970s, there was a push to include Thursday night, and though this was never official, students could be found camping out the night before. Classes ended at 2 p.m. on Mason Day because the campus was quite small and everything was within earshot of the festivities.

bw photo with a line of students
Students in the beer line in front of Fenwick Library. Photo by Barry Boyd/Broadside, from the Broadside Photograph Collection, Special Collections Research Center, University Libraries

3. Say bye-bye to the beer trucks. In 1987, Virginia raised the drinking age to 21. By 1988, beer was no longer served on Mason Day, but the bands played on and attendance grew.

young people on an amusement ride
Mason students enjoying the amusement ride in Lot L. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

4. Taking this party to the parking lots. In the 2000s, the festivities moved to Lot L on the Fairfax Campus to better accommodate the crowds. Soon, the music was joined by amusement park rides and food trucks.

man at a keyboard before an audience
Andy Grammer performed at Mason Day 2013. Photo by Craig Bisacre/Creative Services

5. The bands! The selection of the musical groups has always been up to the student committee running the day. The bands that have visited serve as markers for the time, including The Ventures, Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers, Slickee Boy, Oingo Boingo, Gavin McGraw, Violent Femmes, The Black Eyed Peas, and My Chemical Romance, to name a few.


Want to read more about this Mason tradition?

From the Archives: Mason Day Revisited

50 Years of Mason Day: Tug-o-War, Bands, and a Greased Pig

Mason Day, Patriot’s Day, and Early Signs of Campus Life

Gunston Ledger covers 1967 Mason Day