A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to go to the "Caterpillar Dance" for students at National Quemoy University, with a friend who told me about it. The "Caterpillar Dance" is an annual tradition where the college's freshmen from each department partake in an intense dance competition against the other departments. Each performance has to be nine minutes long, and involves a lot of costumes, coordinated dance moves, and musical mash-ups. Seeing an important university tradition in a non-American university setting was interesting.
Going to this event reminded me about the traditions at my own college, Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. I remember very vividly, my first night as a freshman. We were ushered into the campus chapel where upper classmen filled the other seats, screaming and yelling with excitement. The way the freshmen at NQU were cheered on by their departments brought a fond memory.
At Wheaton after the yelling subsided, the upperclassmen told us about stories and traditions that were important. One tradition involves the very doors to the chapel. The tradition says that you are not allowed to walk through the front doors until you become a senior. If you break this tradition, something terrible will happen to you to keep you from graduating.
A similar tradition says that you cannot sit on the steps of the library before you are a senior. If you sit on the steps before your final year of college, senior students have the right to throw you into the campus pond. I never saw this happen, but I would not be surprised if it had.
Another tradition involving the pond that says you must swim across it before you graduate, otherwise, you will have bad luck after graduation. I never did this, for many reasons, including the dirty appearance of the pond. So far, I haven't encountered too much bad luck since graduation, and I'm hoping it stays that way.
Many seniors decide to fulfill the requirement of swimming across the pond during our Candle Lighting Ceremony. On one of the first nights of freshman year, each freshman receives a candle to light as they stand around the pond. The ceremony is beautiful, watching the little lights twinkle across the campus. Less beautiful is the fact that sometimes the older students push the younger ones into the pond.
During the last week of school for senior students, each senior takes the candles they received as freshmen and lights it one last time before sending it floating across the pond. The night I lit my candle it began to rain. Unceremoniously, I threw my candle into the pond, barely lit, and ran to find shelter from the rain. Though the event was not as beautiful as I had hoped, it was my last chance to fulfill a Wheaton tradition and I am so glad I did.
Some of these traditions may seem silly, and in reality, they are fairly ridiculous. But there is something about traditions that help make a community out of strangers. As freshmen, we were all strangers. By the end of the night, after lighting our candles and trying not to get pushed in the pond, we all shared an important experience as a community.
I think the dance competition for NQU did the same thing. It brought the new freshman together through a silly, strange tradition, and that in itself is incredibly powerful.