Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

What’s in a Tradition?

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Last Wednesday, I attended the tail end of a Town Hall meeting about Carleton traditions. The discussion generated a lot of excitement, and as usual, I found it intellectually and emotionally upsetting.

At first I was confused by a widespread misconception that Carleton traditions are unique to Carleton. I assume that this myth is perpetuated by the Admissions Office. On our website, they use the Silent Dance Party, Spring Concert and New Student Week to represent Carleton culture.

New Student Week is a rite of passage, but that doesn’t make it worth celebrating. Was it a tradition for me to get acne in middle school? If you search for “Silent Dance Party” on YouTube, you’ll see that this event takes place on dozens of other college campuses. Spring concerts also happen across the country, and I even have friends at other schools who call the library “the libe” without my permission.

It’s like they’ve melted down Carleton’s character into a giant chocolate bunny, something cute and sweet and empty to sell to bored high school kids. The only problem is that if you come here expecting to fit in because of your awesome Halloween costume idea or your awesome silent dancing skills, you’re predisposed to miss the best part about Carleton – and potentially about yourself.

At opening convocation, my fellow seniors came through with the bubbles, and I love them for it. But to me, the convocation address revealed more about our school. Jimmy Kolker ’70 , the Chief of the HIV/AIDS Section at UNICEF, said that what he values most in Carleton students is exactly what he values in the professional world: Integrity and empathy.

At times, the hell of finals stress or the thrill of removing your shirt at midnight can certainly seem essential to the Carleton experience, and they’re worth a few pages in our collective scrapbook. But these moments are not defining. Our greatest strength is knowing that there’s more to life than classes and silly traditions and even Division III athletics.

Three years ago, I worked in the LDC. My fondest memory was a dish room shift on Friday nights. Once I got over my boiling rage about being there, it was kind of Zen. The loud hum of the washing machine…the scalding surfaces of the plates…the dull comfort of knowing, as you scrape lasagna off a line of trays as infinite as your tuition bill, that it is organic and locally grown…I almost had fun. But every week, I had to pull forks out of apples. Carleton students like to play with their food.

I’m not here to condemn food art. But if something that harmless can affect someone’s day, it’s troubling to consider the other forms of disrespect Carleton students show each other when we don’t think it matters.

If you leave your bike unlocked overnight, the odds of finding it parked outside another campus building the next day are infuriating. And only at Carleton is it commonplace to justify ignoring a sex partner with something as meaningless as “everyone here is awkward,” or (my personal favorite) “the girls are closet crazies”/“the guys are closet assholes.”

These statements take amazing things for granted. Think about what it means to say, “He’s overthinking it.” At Carleton, he’s a virgin with an I.Q. of 150. Of course he’s overthinking it. Who cares? He probably also read books as a child, which in modern America is a small miracle, and he probably has the capacity for integrity and empathy.

After three years, I continue to be impressed by the compassion Carleton students show when we know it matters. You might see it when a floormate helps you get home from a party safely, or a teammate stops you from getting into a fistfight that could land you an expulsion, or a classmate steps in when they see you being sexually harassed. Or dozens of people rush downtown to fill sandbags.

Of course, all but the last example are pretty unfit for promotional purposes. But could Carleton really take credit for any of them? To be fair to our sports programs, there were a disproportionate number of athletes helping out during the flood (step it up, nonners), but to quote John Wooden, “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.”

So what is Carleton on its own? Without us, it’s just a pile of Googleable knowledge curated by a handful of oversized minds. It’s a long-forgotten German poet, an empty suit of armor, a dead woman’s house. It’s nothing. If you find this depressing, you’re part of the problem. As a student body, we need to stop putting Carleton on a pedestal for the wrong reasons, and remember that it’s lucky to have every single one of us.

-Hannah Watson is a Carletonian columnist

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *