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Simply put, Nykerk is a competition between freshman and sophomore women of Hope College in the areas of song, oration, and play/drama. Each class performs one song, one play, and one oration piece on Nykerk night. Participants work tirelessly for approximately one month preparing for the competition. Nykerk molds three frenzied weeks of preparations into one night of seamless performances.
Twenty-one days before Nykerk night, song women first see their music, play women first make the images in their imagination a reality, and the orator meshes word images into a seven-minute creative performance. The event becomes a campus-wide competition between the even and odd year classes, as members of the junior and senior classes coach the freshman and sophomores respectively. The bond between the women grows as they spend several hours together each evening to make the performance perfect. In only three weeks, a myriad of voiced becomes one, an ensemble of actors sees the same vision, and the sum of thoughts becomes greater than the whole.
Although Nykerk is a competition between women, men play a major role as well. Freshman and sophomore males can participate as morale for the women. Morale’s role is to keep participants’ spirits up and to keep smiles on their faces through funny skits, flowers, and posters on their doors. Song morale dresses to the nines on Nykerk night to escort the girls. Play morale helps behind the scenes as set builders and stage hands.
On Nykerk night the ladies give their best performances for the panel of nine qualified judges whose scores are combine to determine which class will take home the cup! The Nykerk Cup Competition takes place each year during Parents Weekend, typically the first Saturday of November. The event is open to the public.
Nykerk was started as a Hope College event in 1935 by Dr. John Nykerk: Hope professor, dean, musician, and founder of the college’s music department. Dr. Nykerk believed that women were not given an equal opportunity in competition as men and deserved their own competition. Nykerk was founded with three principles in mind: to get new students involved, provide leadership opportunities for upper-class students, especially women, and showcase class talents in an even year – odd year tradition.
Due to exams, the first Nykerk, on February 5, 1936 was postponed until March 16. Ten freshman women challenged upper-class women to a “match of muscles” across the creeks at the Holland Country Club, much like the Pull tradition at Hope College. The contest was changed when Dr. Nykerk offered to present a silver cup, to be handed down each year to the victor of the contest, if the contest would contain one oratorical number, one musical selection and the enactment of a one act play. The freshman class of 1936 won the contest and had the name of their class engraved on the cup. The contest was held in February-March for the first four years from 1935 – 1938, after which it was scheduled to be held in November to coincide with Hope’s Parent’s Weekend activities.
1939 was the first time men were involved, in roles of stage and property managers. Men were officially introduced as morale in the early 1970’s.
Historically, Nykerk has several traditional events that occur prior to the competition. The first is the Nykerk rally to generate interest and get participants. A Candlelight service happens the week prior to the competition and includes a candlelit walk through campus stopping at the President’s house. The Nykerk breakfast is also another traditional event that occurs the morning of the competition to bring the participants together to celebrate and also where the next year’s leadership committee is revealed.
Currently, Nykerk leadership is composed of a General Chair and executive committee, junior coaches for the freshman, and senior coaches for the sophomores. All members of Nykerk’s full leadership committee are former Nykerk participants.