It is a time of celebration and excitement for students, alumni, and the entire Cambridge community. It is just another part of the university's uniqueness. May Week is the start of celebrations across the university as exams are finally over.
What is May Week?
May Week is a name used to refer to the end of the academic year at the University of Cambridge. Despite its name, May Week does not always fall into the final week of May, as it can often spill into June when examinations have ended. As a collegiate university, most of the colleges of the university will have their own events for May Week.
Generally, it is an event of celebration for the university and its students. This usually means that there are several key events that are held - bumps races, May Balls, June events and garden parties among others.
What events are held during May Week?
May Week has many events during this period. Some of these events are open to the public, but these are mainly for the students to celebrate the end of exams.
The Bumps is a rowing race. This is different from the usual, fiercely contested Oxford vs. Cambridge annual regatta and is a chance for the different colleges of Cambridge to race each other. This includes participation from the University Medical and Veterinary Schools and the Anglia Ruskin Boat Club.
Most colleges will put on a fireworks display of some kind. Occasionally, one college will put one on for the whole university, but this is a little rare. This is usually done to coincide with each college’s May Ball (see below) and can even be seen from as far as Castle Mound.
A June Event is the equivalent of a May Ball. May Balls may often be far too expensive for some students, therefore, the June Event is seen as a cheaper alternative.
This is a hugely elaborate, black-tie (and occasionally white-tie) event. Tickets are expensive, costing anywhere between £100 and £700 depending on what is being held. The budgets for these events can be so lavish that they can often cost as much as £100,000 to hold!
All colleges hold their own May Balls. These are held on an annual basis, except for St. Catharine’s, which holds them every two years. These events feature a wide range of entertainment, including performances, exquisite dining experiences and live music with big-name acts having also performed at the May Ball, including Mumford and Sons.
Singing on the River
One of the main attractions is Singing on the River. This event is sometimes held at other points of the year too, but this is the main time it is held. The Trinity College Choir is the main performer, and it takes place on the lawns of King's College.
There are occasionally other events too. Each college will usually host a series of garden parties for students to attend and other less formal or regimented events, providing an opportunity to mingle, celebrate, and soak in picturesque surroundings.
What is May Week Alternative?
The May Week Alternative (MWA) is a “feel good initiative” that is set up by the university’s students. The idea is to encourage students to celebrate the end of the year through various charitable endeavours.
The organisation has three simple aims:
- Direct impact: Looking to raise money and directly impact people’s lives.
- Charity is at the heart of May Week: Give students the chance to improve the world.
- Inspire: The MWA hopes that it will inspire “students to develop philanthropic tendencies”.
The university has different charities they can choose to benefit. The focus tends to be on malaria protection, given their close association with the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) which has raised almost £150,000 to help combat the disease.
What is Suicide Sunday?
Despite its rather worrying name, Suicide Sunday is not as bad as it may appear. Suicide Sunday is the final Sunday immediately after the end of the summer term (or Easter Term, as it’s known at Cambridge).
The name notwithstanding, it is a cause for celebration. Caesarian Sunday commemorates the start of the exam term, with Suicide Sunday being the celebration at the end of it. The name has been challenged by students over the years and is sometimes known as May Week Sunday instead.
The main attraction of this event is the Cardboard Boat Race. It’s generally seen as an alternative to the various garden parties that are held throughout May Week. This is a race wherein the boats are made of…yep, you guessed it, cardboard.
Do all students have to take part in May Week?
No, they do not. Participation in May Week is not a requirement for students, and many students don’t pay it any mind.
Much like the University of Oxford, Cambridge is a hugely traditional university. It has a number of customs and traditions that have been part of the university for some time, therefore, participation is widely encouraged but it’s completely up to you!