Something to Declare

In 2016, Kevin Liao ’18 marched into the registrar’s office to loudly declare his major. Little did he know, his actions would start a new tradition at Haverford.

Haverford has a lot of longstanding traditions to mark important milestones in student life, as the scores of signatures left by graduating seniors adorning the cupola and bell atop Founders Hall can attest. But in 2016, when sophomore Kevin Liao ’18 was ready to declare his major, he felt something was missing. 

As he prepared to formalize his choice, his friends at other liberal arts colleges reported much more pomp and circumstance surrounding that important moment. Many, he says, had fair-style setups and other celebrations where students are given gifts or a small bottle of something bubbly to mark the occasion. 

“I had the idea that Haverford would do the same thing,” Liao recalls. “But when it actually came time to declare my major, I found the process deeply unsatisfying. You just showed up to the registrar’s office, filled out a form, and that was it.” 

After watching President Obama’s January 2016 State of the Union address, Liao formulated a plan. He says he found inspiration in the sergeant-at-arms’ booming, authoritative announcement of the president’s entrance and landed on a way to upend the practical nature of Haverford’s declaration process.

“I thought, all right, now that’s a way to declare something,” says Liao, who is now a software engineer. With a friend in tow to capture the moment on video, Liao marched into the registrar’s office and loudly declared, “Mr. Registrar, I intend to declare a major in computer science and linguistics,” before making an abrupt about-face and leaving. 

As he departed, an unseen voice jokingly replied, “Are you sure?” That belonged to James Keane, the College’s registrar and executive director of academic assessment and operations. Three years ago, Keane recalled Liao’s announcement as he and other staff members were brainstorming new ways to stave off the dreaded sophomore slump and enhance the student experience at Haverford. In that Zoom call, Keane says, Director of Student Engagement and New Student Programs Jodi Mulhall reminded the team that college traditions should be fun, even quirky. 

“That was particularly resonant and reminded me of when Kevin ran into the office to declare his major. Everyone got a kick out of that,” Keane says. “I thought maybe we could turn that into something where students could recreate that moment and we can celebrate it.”

For the past three years, Haverford sophomores have been invited each spring to step up to a microphone outside VCAM to scream their chosen major for all to hear. Each declaration is greeted with a chorus of ringing miniature cowbells—a precursor to ringing the bell in Founders Hall just before Commencement—and one of Keane’s groan-worthy dad jokes. “If someone declares geology, I’ll say, ‘Geology rocks! But geography is where it’s at,’” he says. “I get a lot of eye rolling from my wife at home.”

It seems everyone was in on the joke but Liao, who had no idea the College had begun a new tradition based on his bold declaration. He only found out when scrolling through social media one afternoon in late April, where he stumbled across a recap video of the 2023 event shared through the College’s Instagram account. In it, Keane recounted the event’s origin story and Liao realized he had inspired a new addition to Haverford’s long list of traditions. 

“OH MY GOD THIS WAS ME,” wrote Liao in the comments, in a manner befitting his earlier declaration. “I can’t believe this is a whole ceremony.”