Lest the old traditions fail

by Alison Hagen | 2/22/17 2:00am

“Did you know the ‘Lou’s challenge’ isn’t free?” my friend asked as we passed by Lou’s restaurant.

“Of course,” I replied, baffled.

She then explained that she thought students only stayed up all night to complete the challenge to earn a free breakfast. Without the free meal, she questioned why anyone would want to do the Lou’s challenge. My response: to accomplish the rite of passage and all of the fun or glory that follows.

Although I did not know it at the time, I think I experienced my first rite of passage at Dartmouth when I innocently sat in a crowd of prospective ’20s at Dimensions, and to my surprise, Dartmouth students disguised as prospective students sitting next to me jumped up and began singing and dancing. It was a warm welcome to the crazy, passionate, free-spirited community at Dartmouth. After experiencing First-Year Trips and Homecoming in the fall, I became less surprised each time I learned about another eccentric tradition considered a rite of passage at Dartmouth.

While many freshmen pride themselves in completing First-Year Trips, they quickly find more daring rites of passage during the fall term: running around the Homecoming bonfire, and for some, even touching it. A male ’20 recounted his experience at the Homecoming bonfire, and how he enjoyed touching the fire. He requested anonymity because of the judicial consequences of publicly admitting to touching the bonfire.

“I don’t know that it was necessarily a rite of passage as much as just something fun to do,” the ’20 said. “There were definitely a lot of seniors involved in that evening for me, upperclassmen that were egging me on. I think that Dartmouth has a really cool history of traditions to be upheld.”

The ’20 believes that the “wholesome” traditions during big weekends are part of the reason he loves Dartmouth.

“I like that [at Dartmouth] you can opt in to the activities you want to do, and then if something is a little too much for you, you don’t have to do it and there are no repercussions socially,” the ’20 said.

A male ’19 also touched the fire this year since he was not able to do it as a freshman and also requested anonymity. Similar to the ’20’s experience, the ’19 does not feel his decision was a result of the desire to complete a rite of passage.

“I think it was more of me thinking you only live once and if I don’t do this, I’m going to be regretting it for the rest of my life and thinking I didn’t make the most of Dartmouth or I didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone when I was young and I had the chance,” the ’19 said. “I didn’t feel like I had to do it as a rite of passage, but I felt like it was something that I should do because I’m never going to have this opportunity again.”

While some students may remember feeling nervous with the task of running around the bonfire, they often also remember their adrenaline and motivation to fulfill this rite of passage.

“I was really happy that I went to the bonfire,” Joshua Lee ’19 said. “I didn’t want to go when I was a freshman, but I think when everyone’s yelling at you, it’s just empowering.”

In addition, the ability to accomplish rites of passage with friends and other members of the community heightens their significance.

“I think there’s some stuff that everyone will just agree to do and have fun with, like the snowball fight and Lou’s challenge,” Lee said. “On your own it would just be kind of boring, but the fact that we’re here at Dartmouth and everyone does it is just fun. I think it’s pretty necessary just to gain Dartmouth experience and do things with your friends but I don’t think it’s the most necessary part. I feel like the most necessary part is taking classes.”

Among the daring traditions at Dartmouth, students also find rites of passage within simpler activities. The ’20 even cited eating at Foco as one of these. Within the complex culture at Dartmouth, everyday actions that might seem unordinary certainly appeared at first as daunting rites of passage. In the end, completing small actions that are unique to Dartmouth students adds even more meaning to the college experience.

“I think some of the smaller things I definitely also appreciated more than like touching the fire or doing the polar plunge,” the ’19 said. “Things like playing my first game of pong, going to my first fraternity party, starting my first college relationship, making my first solid college friendships, small things like that kind of add up and makes you feel more connected to the environment here.”

So, did you shake the president’s hand when you officially matriculated? Did you attend the candle lighting ceremony at the BEMA? Were you brave enough to do the Ledyard Challenge? Can you brag to your friends about accomplishing the Dartmouth Seven? While these traditions may feel like rites of passage to some students, they may also just seem like adventurous things to try, or maybe even unnecessary foolish acts. Whether you accomplish them or find them maddening, you will get a great story to tell your friends .from home about what it means to be a Dartmouth student.