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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

All Fired Up

I have always been fascinated by fires. There's something about their pristine beauty that has always attracted me. My roommate thinks this fascination is somewhat dangerous given my natural clumsiness, but I think her fears are entirely unfounded. Just because I bump into chairs and drop things on myself all the time doesn't mean that the combination of me and fire is necessarily bad. And even if it were, I don't think she or anyone else could keep me away from one of the prettiest fires I have ever seen: our Homecoming bonfire.

Now to tell you the truth, when I first found out about the tradition of the bonfire, I was a little skeptical. The idea sounds pretty cool, but it seemed to me that the ingredients of the event spelled disaster: fire, drunk freshmen, taunting upperclassmen. Enough said. I could picture a number of frightening scenarios, all of which ended in some sort of stampede on the Green. I had heard enough stories about freshmen going to touch the fire, egged on by jeering upperclassmen or people getting arrested for various other offenses, so my concerns weren't totally unfounded. But thankfully, Homecoming last year was quite uneventful in that sense.

In fact, I think my freshman Homecoming experience was rather pleasant. It started off on somewhat shaky ground because I managed to miss the freshman sweep (I lived in the River), but I did catch up with my classmates by the time the sweep hit Main Street. The lighting of the bonfire was spectacular. I doubt anyone can deny that. The bonfire structure was tall, imposing, impressive and the fire even more so.

And then I remember running around the bonfire several times, being pushed and shoved and nearly run over by rugby players. But I don't think any of us really minded the pushing or the heat of the fire on our faces. Amid the chaos, there was a sense of solidarity, almost as though this were the rite of passage we had all been waiting for since we arrived at Hanover. Maybe now we could finally erase the last traces of high school in our demeanors and truly claim to be Dartmouth students.

This is a college of traditions, and traditions are indeed strange things. They evoke vastly different responses in different people -- some embrace the tradition, accepting it as a symbol of history and heritage while others boycott all tradition for exactly the same reason, because it symbolizes to them a conformity to some archaic sense of heritage.

I'm not sure which category I fell under back then. It's easy to dismiss traditions as trivial, unimportant, perhaps even dangerous. And I agree that in the spirit of progress and change, not all traditions should be kept intact. If they were, then maybe there still wouldn't be women in this college.

That said, Homecoming is a tradition that I would hate to ever see die. I fell in love with this particular tradition the moment that I laid eyes on the bonfire. Something about the crisp fall night, the blazing bonfire and my classmates running around in awe made quite an impression on me. This was not just about archaic tradition; it was so much more than that.

Homecoming to me symbolizes all the hope and excitement, the wonder and happiness, the levity and joy one possesses as a freshman. Then somewhere along the line, we lose that wide-eyed innocence and become cynical and distrustful, a process we fondly call "becoming an adult." Homecoming is not just another tradition; it is the celebration of the freshman in all of us, the loud, carefree, sometimes obnoxious person we all try to hide under the facade of maturity.

I look forward to Homecoming this year, not just because I want to see the bonfire again, but because it'll be interesting to watch it from outside the circle of running freshmen. It's an entirely different perspective, I imagine, but one that I can't wait to experience for myself. When I see the '06s running around the bonfire, I'm sure I'll see parts of my freshman self reflected in their faces -- the part that wondered whether I truly belonged at this college or that questioned the seemingly never-ending traditions of this place. Or maybe the part that was still adjusting to a new life, while speculating at how the next few years were going to be.

I have one more year of wisdom now, but I'm not necessarily any wiser. All those questions are still present in my head, but I've finally realized that it's fine. Just because I'm close to becoming an "adult" doesn't mean I must have all the answers. So my plan this weekend is to stop pretending that I'm mature and just have fun, enjoy the bonfire, do silly things, party in an adequately Dartmouth fashion. And of course, I couldn't truly call myself an upperclassman if I didn't make some freshman touch the fire.