The P-rade, one of the most popular and colorful reunion events, officially began in the late 1890s but evolved from earlier traditions.
Beginning in the 1860s, alumni formally processed to Commencement Day dinner meetings. In 1888, Princeton and Yale began scheduling one of their baseball games at Princeton on the Saturday before Commencement — and as this coincided with class dinners, alumni attendance was high and many classes formally marched to the game at University Field.
Then, in October 1896, when the newly renamed Princeton University celebrated its 150th anniversary, 2,800 undergraduates and alumni took part in a mile-long procession through the campus and town; most carried an orange torch or lantern, and many classes wore coordinated costumes. Inspired by the grandeur and organization of this parade, in 1897 all returning classes joined to march in order to the baseball game.
Gradually, classes began to distinguish themselves with ever-more elaborate costumes, signs and stunts. In 1913, graduating seniors started to wear "beer jackets" as their costumes, with a class logo emblazoned on the back. To this day, each graduating class designs its own class jacket, worn for the first time during Reunions weekend. Over time, P-rades and Reunions increasingly became a family affair, but it was not until the undergraduate body became coeducational in 1969 that women were officially welcome to participate in the P-rade.
While much of the P-rade has stayed the same over the years — the Nassau Hall bell tolls at 2 p.m. sharp — 2018 marked perhaps the greatest change in tradition. The Old Guard (classes beyond the 65th Reunion) led the P-rade after the Grand Marshal and other dignitaries, (including the President), an honor previously bestowed upon the 25th Reunion Class. The Old Guard typically ride in golf carts or occasionally walk, always drawing the loudest cheers from spectators. In recognition of his commitment to Reunions, the eldest returning alumnus from the oldest returning class has the special privilege of carrying the Class of 1923 Cane — a black wooden staff topped by a leaping silver tiger. Beginning in 1975, graduate alumni were invited to march between the 24th and 26th reunion classes, a tradition that has continued to this day. Throughout, dedicated alumni known as Marshals maintain order in their distinctive orange "Da Vinci" hats and blue blazers. The P-rade ends when the senior class marches onto Poe Field and gathers by the reviewing stand to be officially welcomed into the Alumni Association.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the P-rade evolved in to the virtual P-rade or V-rade in 2020 and 2021. Princetonians gathered around their online devices at 2 p.m. sharp cheering on a narrated orange-and-black extravaganza of photographs from each decade.