A Traditional Spring

by Cal Newport | 5/15/02 5:00am

Last term I wrote an article titled "A Traditional Winter," in which, as a service to the freshman class, I highlighted some of the more important Dartmouth winter traditions. And though no one told me that they appreciated the article, my sources say that it was well received (by "my sources," I of course mean "my imagination"). Now that we find ourselves thoroughly digested in the intestinal tract of spring, I think we can agree it is an appropriate time for me to talk about Dartmouth spring traditions and to stop using bodily-function metaphors.

You can't help but love this season. The snow melts, the weather warms, the sun shines, everyone puts on their shorts and sandals and happily skips outside where they all promptly get frostbite, because in the time it took them to get dressed the weather changed from "sunny and nice" to "snowy hell." But I don't think people really mind these random fluctuations in weather patterns, because in the spring, even when it is freezing outside, there is always the chance that the next day could be much better. I believe that in general, we don't mind something that has historically turned out to be bad, when there is the chance that something good could possibly happen. This is why we play the lottery, or go see Val Kilmer films.

But back to my main point: spring heralds the arrival of numerous time-honored Dartmouth traditions. And by "numerous" I mean "one," which is of course Green Key weekend. For those of you who are a little rusty on their school history (for shame!) I'll get you up to speed:

This traditional weekend of relaxation and fun was first instituted in 1869 by Dartmouth President Theodore Green Key. In the words of the original declaration, Green Key was to be: "A time for the noble lads of Dartmouth College to revel in the beatitude and invigorating energy of youth, reflect on the tenuous nature of human existence, absorb the invigorating spirit of the sun-soaked White Mountains and, most importantly of all, drink a lot of beer and listen to rock bands."

That first 1869 Green Key was somewhat of a failure, due mainly to the fact that rock bands hadn't been invented yet (the Rolling Stones were only in their early teens ), and because it was held from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning. However, the students of Dartmouth persisted. Through several important innovations, such as replacing 16 oz. cups of beer with 32 oz. cups of beer and replacing 32 oz. cups of beer with 64 oz. cups of beer, Green Key evolved into the weekend of fun that we know and love.

But even as much as we enjoy this celebration today, we need to recognize that for those who are experiencing Green Key for the first time, there are many subtleties that need be learned. Thinking back to my first Green Key, I remember often being confused or unsure of what was going on. More specifically I found that people would often say things that had a different meaning in the context of the Green Key festivities. This is why, in my never-ending quest to aid the personal growth of my fellow students, I have compiled a useful "Green Key Translation Guide" to help make this upcoming celebratory weekend as fun and confusion free as possible:

PHRASE: I'm going to go spend some time at the library to work on my paper that's due Monday.

TRANSLATION: I'm going to make it about three steps towards the library before I feel sorry for myself and go party instead, on the assumption that 11 p.m. Sunday to 9 a.m. Monday is a perfectly viable time to write a 15-page paper.

PHRASE: I'm feeling a little out of it today.

TRANSLATION: Last night I drank enough beer to drown a Brontosaurus.

PHRASE: I guess yesterday got kind of crazy.

TRANSLATION: This morning I found my pants in the Food Court salad bar.

PHRASE: Your dad must have been a thief, because you're one hot angel!

TRANSLATION: I am too intoxicated to realize that my pick-up line makes no sense.

PHRASE: Maybe you're the one who is drunk, Officer stupid face!

TRANSLATION: I am about to get arrested.

Armed with these translations, anyone can handle the excitement of Green Key like a champ. And don't worry, there is plenty of excitement. Just think of all the Green Key traditions we have. For instance, there is the lawn party at Alpha Delta, and the you know uh okay, so maybe there aren't all that many actual "traditions" related to this holiday. But more than anything else, Green Key weekend embodies the spirit of Dartmouth, and by "embodies the spirit of Dartmouth" I of course mean "is an excuse to play pong on a Thursday morning."

But I don't want people to get the wrong impression about our school; we are not a bunch of senseless party animals. Nothing's wrong with spending a Spring term weekend kicked-back and relaxed, forgetting about school work for a while. Green Key only comes once a year. Though I guess we relax the first weekend of the term too and the weekend before studying for midterms and the weekend after midterms and the weekend before studying for finals and the weekend after finals are done. Wait a second, maybe this school is just a bunch of senseless party animals! I for one am ashamed, and will have nothing to do with this debauchery!

Now if you need me, I'll be at Food Court looking for my pants.