Seeing Double: Tradition, Tradition!

Seeing Double Columnist Cole Graber-Mitchell ’22 reflects on his four years at Amherst, concluding his last solo column with a claim that the college is in need of more student traditions.

Seeing Double: Tradition, Tradition!
The moose, resplendent in its corner of Frost Library. Offerings Welcome. Photo Courtesy of Amherst College.
The moose, resplendent in its corner of Frost Library. Offerings welcome. Photo courtesy of Amherst College.

This, I’m sad to say, is the last solo Seeing Double that I will write. It’s the nature of college that everything here comes to an end eventually. Saying goodbye to college and everything associated with it — my friends, my classes, my column, never needing to cook — is already painful (though reading my co-columnist’s final solo column last week was freeing). It also provides some perspective on my time here at Amherst. While it’s a little premature to do much reflection, I have been able to identify one thing that I feel is lacking here: strong student traditions.

I’m sure that smaller groups have particular secret traditions, like the Green Room’s … well, I shouldn’t say that. And there are certainly some salient traditions among broader segments of the student body. Bar Night is one example for seniors. Another is the traditional superstition against walking on the war memorial, which I’ve heard has negative implications for one’s ability to graduate.

Amherst has no shortage of peculiarities, the little idiosyncrasies that make this place Amherst and not (I shudder to imagine) Williams or some other lowly hilltown middle-of-nowhere backwater run-down pit. But curiously, very few of those peculiarities are true student traditions.

Other colleges often have strong traditions that help bring the student body together, especially when taking part in them requires no special aptitude or interest. For example, many campuses have “scream nights.” At Michigan State University, where a friend of mine recently graduated, everyone screams out their stress on the midnight before finals.

That same university also has other, more particular traditions. MSU has a fight song that every student knows, and a particular way of singing it when football games are going a particular way. And I’ve been told that if you see someone wearing MSU swag anywhere in the world, the traditional greeting is “Go Green!” to which they’ll respond: “Go White!”

Why don’t we have traditions like this? Some Amherst traditions faded during the pandemic, like ResLife’s annual lip-sync competition. Winners would get first pick in the room draw, which was a pretty big deal. Others were billed as traditions but didn’t seem to happen again, like Mammoth Day. These are institutional traditions, supported by college policy, and even they couldn’t persist through the pandemic. Student traditions, which depend on transmission through osmosis between students living in close quarters and doing activities together, didn’t stand a chance. As younger students spent more time on campus without the influence of higher years, traditions weakened.

Other traditions ended even before the pandemic, like the old tradition of stealing the Sabrina statue. I’m sure other traditions died out even earlier, but I can’t provide many more examples, since it’s the nature of old, lapsed traditions to be unknown by those who don’t practice them. I’m sure alums know of some traditions from their days, though, that no student currently on campus has heard of.

The lack of traditions at Amherst might be a side-effect of a small campus community. It’s possible that, at big schools, traditions are more needed to feel connected to other students. At Amherst, we already see everyone all the time. Our daily lives tend to be focused on avoiding people in Val rather than coming together as a community.

Yet I think that some traditions to bring our community together would be good for us. Amherst has a relatively fractured student community. It can be clique-y here, and there’s a reason people always make jokes that the skill best honed at Amherst is how to walk past a three-year acquaintance without acknowledging them.

For years, I’ve been dreaming of somehow teaching all students one of our easier and more fun college songs. Then, anyone could start singing that song at big gatherings and everyone else could join in.

And the traditions I’ve missed at Amherst need not be as formal as everyone learning a song. In fact, inane, weird, superstitious traditions are probably even better. Imagine if we all left a small offering for the moose in Frost each finals season! How fun would it be to make a little pilgrimage to the moose, leave your offering, and see all the trinkets that everyone else left. What a strong proof that you aren’t alone — that everyone else is stressed too, and that we can get through finals together.

It’s a little silly to call for forming organic student traditions in a column, since that isn’t really how any of this works. In fact, I have very little idea how traditions get started.

But I do know at least one way they disappear: when they’re forgotten. And so I make a plea to the graduating senior class. On the night of the last day of spring classes in our first year here, all of the then-seniors returned to the first year quad to seek out their old rooms (that is, our rooms at the time) and spend a few last moments in those memory-soaked halls. We must do the same. If not for the sake of nostalgia, do it for the tradition.

As we graduate, the last class to remember a full academic year before the pandemic also leaves. Nobody else knows about this tradition. It is up to us to maintain it. Let this be our legacy: restarting the endless loop linking first to last through the small tradition of haunting our first-year dorms one final time.

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