Two teams, one stage, a whole lot of love. An 80-year-old tradition built from three weeks of practice all leading to one night of expression and competition. Nykerk, the second tradition of the fall semester, took place on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. Nykerk was started by a Hope College professor, John Nykerk, in 1935, who believed that women should have their own competition (Hope College). Of course, this was at the time when only men were allowed to do the Pull, so the women were able to do Nykerk. There are three “events” that make up Nykerk: song, play and oration. The plays, directed by students, commonly include references to Hope College. This year featured campus buildings coming to life, put on by Odd year, and influential Hope icons being stuck in the Kruizenga Art Museum. Oration is an eight-minute speech written and memorized by an orator with hand motions to accompany their words. Lastly, song, conducted by two coaches, features synchronized hand motions with white gloves, known to change color at the end to orange and blue.
Similar to The Pull, Nykerk is a competition between freshmen and sophomores who are coached by Nykerk alumni and have now become coaches and mentors. “It is an opportunity for freshman to come in and create a group with each other and then to continue that into their sophomore year and I think it develops them into really well-rounded individuals…it develops their confidence for being in groups and it is just a lot of skills that they can carry on into their lives,” said Kailianne Riggott (‘23) who was a song participant and now holds the Senior Production title. Riggott, who reflected on her time as a songgirl during the intermission of the event, continued “It was a really great opportunity for me to create a community outside of Scott Hall because that is such a tight-knit community and I wanted to be more involved on campus.” Everyone who talks about Nykerk tends to mention something about the type of community it fosters. There’s a lot of love between even and odd years even though only one team can win. Lizzy Bassett (‘23), who was one of the two ‘23 orators, is now an Oration Coach. She says, “It’s weird, it’s goofy, it’s all about community and you get to do your little piece.” The other ‘23 orator and coach Aubrey Brolsma (‘23), continued, “It’s so weird, we’re trying to be talented and skillful and amazing, and at the same time, we’re also trying to be as bonkers as possible. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s the competition.”
Some might look at Nykerk and tilt their head with an eyebrow raised. From the overdramatic hand gestures and colored gloves to the shouting anytime anyone says “odd” or “even” during play, people might wonder why it is a tradition. In contrast to The Pull, emotional and physical pain tend to bond you together. So, what makes Nykerk so special? For one, Mackenzie Niswonger (‘26), who participated for the first time as a member of this year’s Even Play, says, “Play is not like any other play you’ve seen. It’s very compact and expressive, and the same with Song and Oration. It’s not going to be like forms of a song or any speech you’ve ever seen before, and I think it’s so unique to Hope and it’s what makes us special.” These pieces of art are just that, art. Art is fun and weird and unique to the person who creates it. It’s important to look at Nykerk with a lens that appreciates all of the artistry and imagination that went into it.
These women work hard for three weeks preparing funny and interactive pieces that show off their talents as well as the collaboration that their team has built. Brolsma asserted, “It doesn’t matter if they won or lost, they all worked really hard and that’s something worth being proud of.” Bassett continued this statement, saying, “and they’re walking out with friendships. Let’s be real, it’s a win.” Both even and odd coaches said that their experience was “easy” this year. “After last year, we were a lot more settled into [the role] and knew what we were doing. At the same time, Oration coaching changes every year and it evolves really fast, so we get to make those calls of ‘How do we keep with tradition?’ ‘How do we improve on tradition?’ and I think we had a good balance this year,” Brolsma commented. A theme is chosen by the leadership board and the coaching team every year and discussions of how that fits in with the tradition of Nykerk take place to ensure that people will still get the most out of the unique experience.
Overall, Nykerk is full of love despite the fierce competition between odd and even years. Niswonger said, “I’m glad it got to be such a significant part of my life for a short time. It was so much fun just building a community with the rest of the Playgirls and the Playboys and the rest of even and odd year in general.” The unity that Nykerk and The Pull bring on campus is one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Nykerk, for women and by women, remains one of the most participated traditions on campus and unites even and odd year through healthy expressive competition that is sure to produce friendships to last.