Lagniappe Day turns 50

Written byKatherine Frazer


For three decades, when the azaleas began to blossom and students’ summertime cravings reached a crescendo, Philip Beridon prepared to take the plunge. The alumnus took the day off from his job, dressed in his finest tuxedo and returned to campus for a little something extra.

Standing on the red brick wall surrounding Cypress Lake, Beridon led a backward countdown from 10. And as an eager chorus of students reached “one,” he lifted his hands to the sky and leapt — headfirst — into the managed wetland in the middle of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus. Over the years, he perfected a midair twist, landing with a graceful back flop before waving to the audience. Beridon served as a producer and member of the board for the Abbey Players Theatre in Abbeville, but this performance made him famous – at least on campus. The act he began spontaneously in 1977 as a student continued until his death in 2006.

For outside observers, voluntarily diving into a swamp might seem unusual. For UL Lafayette students, watching him jump into Cypress Lake (with the option to join him after) was a hallmark of the perfectly irrational revelry of Lagniappe Day.

Lagniappe Day was born in 1974 after the NCAA put the basketball team on suspension for two years. The University planned the festivities to keep up morale. It caught on fast. This year, Lagniappe Day will celebrate its 50th anniversary on April 19.

“Lagniappe” means “a little something extra” in Cajun French. On Lagniappe Day, students take time away from classes to relax and “pass a good time.” What this looks like has evolved. More recently, students have decompressed by racing canoes, competing in jalapeno-eating contests and listening to live performances.

But for 50 years, the staple of the event has been a campus crawfish boil — with the average feast topping out at 20,000 pounds.

Glenn Menard worked as the director of the Student Union after graduating in 1971. He described Lagniappe Day’s early years as a cross between a fair and a music festival. He recalled that one year, the crawfish were not delivered in time and jambalaya was served instead. That didn’t go over so well.

“The next time the contract came up, there was a provision in there that said they had to have 10,000 pounds of crawfish on the loading dock at the Student Union 24 hours before the crawfish boil so we could physically see them,” Menard said. 

The anomaly of a giant crawfish boil and administration-approved skip day drew disapproving headlines when it was first introduced, but for students, it epitomizes the joys of south Louisiana life.

Dr. Annie Wingate Spell graduated from UL Lafayette in 2002 and helped carry on the Lagniappe Day tradition as Student Government Association treasurer.

“It’s one of the events that is quintessential to the culture,” Spell said.

For Spell, a third-generation alumna, Lagniappe Day is reflective of the generosity that permeated her student experience. She said the University’s emphasis on adding a little something extra extends past the springtime festivities. The commitment from staff, faculty and her peers followed her for the rest of her life.

“That is somewhat an unexpected gift,” Spell said. “Their extra time, their extra attention, their extra motivation toward me as a student who wanted me to do well.”

Photo caption: Philip Beridon jumps into Cypress Lake at Lagniappe Day in 1984. (Special Collections)

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