Vassar proud of customs, and grads too

The night before spring finals, the cool air tickled my exposed limbs on the walk to the library. By the time I arrived in front of the grandiose gothic architecture, a mass of people had already started to mingle on the steps. It was nearly midnight. Hushed, anticipating chatter hummed throughout the crowd and suddenly a cheer erupted. Clapping. And in the midst of it, a large throng of naked bodies ran towards us, like fearless Spartan warriors sprinting into battle. Except drunk and somehow more naked. In awe, I watched all of them, more naked people than I had ever seen in my entire life, streak into the library and out again, celebrating their near graduation in the ballsy-est of fashions.

After a while, staring at all the energetic and mismatched body parts made me feel like I were in the Picasso that I should have been studying for my art history final. And then I saw him: that guy with whom I had gone to high school, looked up to, and whose younger brother I mentored. All of these nostalgic remembrances of years past entered my mind as I saw his bare ass running back towards the quad. The magic of the night was gone.

For they weren’t simply faceless marauders of the night or the nymphs you read about in texts you horribly mistranslated for Latin. They were just seniors, other students of Vassar College who did not become too jaded to participate in the Skinner-to-Kenyon length list of things you must do at Vassar before graduating. Starting when students arrive as nooby freshmen, the idea that true Vassarians must be a part of every tradition before they graduate and go their separate ways, aka to a studio apartment in Brooklyn with college friends, is impressed upon us.

In the same vein as the Senior Run, the Primal Scream is a highly anticipated event to blow off some steam and alienate ourselves from the Poughkeepsie community. A girl in my fellow group who did not attend this past fall’s Scream but heard it said it sounded “like a thousand people simultaneously getting hit by a train and also the train itself.” I don’t know how this event started happening, yet being described in a way tantamount to an experimental music composition surely wouldn’t bother any Vassar student. Except maybe those who are noise pollution activists; Lord knows if that isn’t already an org on campus, it will be soon.

Other traditions require much less cynicism to describe, like taking Art 105 and 106. Alumnae/i and professors rave that Introduction to the History of Art should be a hallmark of anyone’s time at Vassar. And they’re not wrong. As a student sits in lecture, completely perplexed by Modern Art or fangirling over Andrew Tallon, or as a student takes the final, having no idea of any of the dates, they become a part of the legacy. (But seriously, if you’re not a senior, I recommend taking a class with Andrew Tallon. He’s a delight, plus he has a PBS Nova special about cathedrals!)

The most notable of all traditions at Vassar is obviously Founder’s Day, a celebration which originated to honor Matthew Vassar and now would probably shock him out of his tiny frock. The day starts with students casting off their inhibitions, and most of their clothes, and pretending that getting day drunk is totally fine. A few hours and an assortment of illegal substances later (and also some accidentally-ingested body glitter, oops), students proceed to Ballantine, dancing to performers as irrelevant as their impending finals. For most, the day ends when they wake up from their post Drunk Deece nap and watch the fireworks by the lake, as if loud explosions of light are the secret cure to any hangover which started at 5 p.m.

But as much as they shape a graduate’s experience at Vassar, the real joke’s on you for reading this entire article, because these traditions are red herrings. When seniors pack up their TH, TA, SoCo, suite or hopefully not single, and leave Vassar, having contributed to the many traditions is not their story. Sure, that’s a part of Vassar’s history, but that omits the growth students undergo and the kind of people they become while here. And sure, not every Vassar grad is going to be a Meryl Streep or a Lisa Kudrow, but with the morals and integrity of our liberal arts education we can all probably at least be an Ethan Slater (’14), star of the new and unanticipated “SpongeBob Musical.” And what more could you ask for, really?

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