Ashley Gramolini Wins Wellesley's 115th Annual Hoop-Rolling Contest

April 24, 2010
Arlie Corday,

WELLESLEY, Mass. -- Senior Ashley Gramolini, being carried, at right, of Brussels, Belgium, is the winner of this morning's 115th annual hoop-rolling competition at Wellesley College. Gramolini, who will graduate May 28, was met at the finish line by President H. Kim Bottomly, where she was presented with a bouquet of purple flowers, symbolizing her class color. Gramolini is a theatre studies major with an English minor.

She describes feeling "absolute amazement, shock and disbelief" at her win.

"My hoop started shaking toward the end of the race, and I literally threw myself over the finish line, so I wasn't sure if I won because I thought I had fallen, " she recounts. "I was just hyper focused during the whole race, sprinting as fast as I could, eyes locked on nothing but my hoop. I had no idea I had won until all the cameras were in my face."

Her accomplishment took some time to sink in. "Right now, since I've had some time to process, I am just incredibly honored and proud," she said, crediting her success with the friends she has made at Wellesley.

"I truly believe the secret to my winning was the Shakespeare Society," said Gramolini, where she has been a member for four years and currently serves as the group's president. "Our Shakes little sisters camped out for all the Shakers; they were such troopers. They secured the entire front line for all the Shakes seniors and we were all there together. My fellow seniors joked that they wanted me to win so they were going to make a 'flying V' behind me to keep me in the lead."

Once she was declared the winner, her friends continued to rally around.

"My fellow Shakers started chanting our society's chant: 'Mask and Quill/Mask and Quill/ Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare Still!' and then my good friend, and second place roller, Janine Hegarty put me on her back and started running with me toward the lake," Gramolini said. "(Hegarty) carried me to the Margaret Clapp library and then my friend Elizabeth Stone took over with me on her back and then right before the lake all the Shakers lifted me up and then I was gracefully dumped in," she said.

In keeping with tradition, hoop-rolling winners are promptly carried to the edge of Lake Waban and tossed into the chilly water.

The daughter of Mary Ellen Cochran, a native of Quincy, Mass., and Jay Gramolini, a native of Maynard, Mass., Gramolini feels the hoop-rolling win caps an outstanding college experience at Wellesley.

"I am so inspired by this class," she said. "I really would not be the woman I am today without the constant support and encouragement. My real little sister (Simmy Gramolini) is also a Wellesley student; she is a sophomore, and being able to share in these special Wellesley traditions with her is such an honor and makes the experiences all the more precious. She will be getting my winning hoop. So look out for her in the hoop-rolling race of 2012."

Traditionally, the winner of the contest, which first began in 1895, was said to be the first in her class to marry. These days, victory is seen as a sign that the winner will be the first to achieve success, however she defines it.

Gramolini is an American citizen whose parents are teachers in international schools. "I grew up all over the world," she said. "Belgium is where my home is, where my family still resides and where I graduated from high school." The family will receive Belgium citizenship later this year.

She has acted in numerous college theatre productions, including with Upstage student theatre and the professional group, Wellesley Summer Theatre Company. Last semester, she performed a one-woman show called "9 Parts of Desire" for her final theatre major project.

Gramolini was one of hundreds of Wellesley College seniors, many dressed in academic gowns, who made this morning's 1/8 mile dash, rolling old-fashioned wooden hoops in a race to the finish line.

Wellesley College has been a leader in liberal arts and the education of women for more than 130 years. The College's 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students from 50 states and more than 65 countries.

Photos by Richard Howard