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The Grand Marshal

About the Grand Marshal

The Grand Marshal (GM) is the oldest and highest elected office on campus and the presiding officer of the Student Senate. The GM is a non-voting member of the Senate, and plays an important role in Student Government projects, appointment of officers, and the greater campus community. They support the efforts of the Senate with student groups, the surrounding community, and key administrators including the President of the Institute’s Cabinet.

The position of Grand Marshal was created in 1866 to honor Major Albert Metcalf Harper, a Delta Phi brother, civil war veteran, and a well respected and admired student. Albert’s role was to lead and represent the Rensselaer student body. Every year following, with the exception of a few years in the 1890s, the RPI student body has elected a Grand Marshal to serve as their student body president. Grand Marshall Week and associated celebrations formed around the election for this prestigious position. The GM wears an iconic top-hat as a symbol of their position.

History of the Position

The position of Grand Marshal was created in 1865 to honor a student respected and admired by his classmates.

The Grand Marshal and President of the Union were traditionally elected during the spring semester on a date determined by the Student Council. A formal nomination with at least twenty-five signatures had to be submitted to the manager of the Union at least 10 days prior to the election. Candidates are nominated by political parties formed through fraternities or groups of independents. The parties are typically short lived with frequent changes in names and affliations, but the concept has endured.

Elections for Grand Marshal were not held from 1890-1893. A student Union was formed in 1890 and a president was elected along with other officers. This position was viewed as the head of the student body. The Grand Marshal, who had largely been a ceremonial student leader, had seemingly become unnecessary. The position was reinstated in 1894 to arouse student spirit and the previous PU, Athol M. Miller, was elected to the office in December. The traditional spring election was resumed in 1896. The elections were moved to November in 1942 and 1943 and then suspended 1944-1945 due to accelerated course work during World War II.

A top hat, the symbol of the office, is awarded to the winning candidate on Grand Marshal night. The top hat tradition dates back as far as 1876 when the winning candidate was presented with a silk hat from Boughton's Store during the parade through Troy.

Grand Marshal Night evolved into a week of campaigning, entertainment and contests known as Grand Marshal Week. As other traditions fell by the way side, Grand Marshal Week became the highlight of the academic year.

Information obtained from the RPI Archives.

Holders of Office

There have been 154 Grand Marshals leading RPI’s student body. The current Grand Marshal is Meagan Lettko ’20.

A full list of past Grand Marshals can be found here.