Give the bonfire a chance
It was this time last year that I was on the ramparts of a hastily-constructed defensive position, flinging eggs at older guys who were running at me with bags of feces.
While I thought this was kind of fun and probably represented the Chinese human wave attacks of the Korean war on a slightly less dangerous scale, I could see how many people would find this only mediocre, as feces does not clean that easily.
Regardless, running the risk of agreeing with a certain off-campus publication of dubious integrity, the bonfire and the tremendous circle of sweaty freshman who come with it will always have a place at Dartmouth.
There is much to be said about tradition and how it keeps a school together. It is not an accident that the best schools in the land are ones steeped in tradition.
Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton, West Point: the traditions at schools like these are well established. Brown, which has discarded tradition and tried very hard to be progressive, has taken its ignominious station as the doormat of the Ivies. But why is tradition so important?
It provides a common strand of experience that different individuals from different times can share. In the end, what makes a school a powerful institution is the degree to which its alumni will stand by it across time.
That is a function of how much they valued their individual experience there, and how much the present school is still like that.
I am looking forward to the day when I, a Dartmouth student who was born the year I graduated, and an alum who graduated the year I was born can all meet on a street somewhere in Manhattan, and talk for a while.
I will understand exactly what the young one is talking about when he describes running around a really big flame, sweating like he was in a sauna, while some even sweatier dean yelled at him for trying to touch the burning wood.
The oldest one will remember what it is like to be young. Right now this seems like a load of sentimental nonsense, but that's because we're here and not getting old and overweight yet.
Ultimately, every institution tries to integrate traditions. It's just that the new ones have no traditions and the tumultuous ones whose faces are always changing don't know what traditions would be suitable.
As for the bonfire, if you don't like it, don't go. If you're a '97, go and decide for yourself, and leave early if you don't like it. But bear in mind that people have been doing it for decades.
It also is harmless. We shouldn't feel too guilty burning a lot of wood once a year regardless of how it could heat two houses for the whole winter. Then we might as well feel guilty about going to Dartmouth.
Every school must have a face. Faces that gain worth, posterity and prosperity are ones that do not change fundamentally. Two New York University students who have never met are not necessarily glad to see each other -- they could have spent four years at their school and never have had a common experience.
But when you run into a Dartmouth alum anywhere in the world, there is usually a little excitement.
Chances are good that you have shared some common experiences that draw you together: the cold, Winter Carnival, Green Key, D.O.C. Trips, and your sweaty run around the Bonfire the night after we have routed some college in football.
Everyone has their own Dartmouth, but this one is ours if we want it to be.