It has been called one of the most beautiful graduation ceremonies in the country. This weekend, over 2,000 students decked out in white dresses and white dinner jackets will receive their diplomas and become College of Charleston graduates. The formal ceremony is not the only thing that separates the College’s commencement ceremony from other college graduations. “Crossing the Cistern” is a tradition that has been a hallmark of the College of Charleston graduation for over 75 years. Here’s last year’s ceremony, as seen in rapid-fire fashion.


Despite the fact that thousand of graduates have walked across the Cistern to receive their degrees, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the Cistern itself. In honor of the upcomong graduation ceremony, here are four cool things to know about the College of Charleston Cistern and Cistern Yard:

Pretty and Practical

The Cistern was constructed in 1857 as a reservoir to provide water for fighting fires in the days before the city installed a water system.


Randolph Hall and the Cistern, c. 1886, after a major earthquake. Note the crumbled wing.


Best All Around

The three-acre yard is ringed with a wrought-iron fence of spear and axe design conceived by famed Charleston architect Edward Brickell White and made by Charleston craftsman Christopher Werner.

The fence surrounding Cistern Yard

The fence surrounding Cistern Yard

Till the cows come home

In 1850, the college’s janitor, or caretaker, let his livestock roam around the Cistern Yard. This was not popular with the students who had to walk back and forth across the yard to get to classes. After a lot of complaining, the cows were finally told to hit the trail and were “mooved” to a different location.

black and white cow



Not just for graduation anymore.

Along with graduation, the Cistern has also been the setting for TV shows such as the NBC’s Today ShowCNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, ABC’s The View. It has also shown up on the big screen in movies such as The Patriot, The Notebook and Dear John.