For many of our nation's brightest minds, this week marks the return to higher learning. Before the exams and papers start piling up, let's take a moment to remember some of the odder parts of college: the time-tested traditions, showcasing young America's talent, pride and stupidity.
Mirror Lake Jump at Ohio State University
In an effort for OSU's football team to beat rival Michigan (arguably the greatest rivalry in college sports, says me, a girl from Columbus), students do as any reasonable body of people would in the typically frigid November week leading up to the game: they jump into a lake—a pond, really—on the campus quad. Last year's plunge, which is really more of a frolic in varying degrees of undress with questionable floatation devices, was estimated to cost the university over $46,000 in security personnel and landscape repairs. Twenty-five people were sent to the emergency room. ("Alcohol is not antifreeze, it actually increases the shock to your body," a concerned Student Wellness Center reminds the bright scholars). For the record, Ohio State beat Michigan last year and will probably do so again this year.
The Baker House Piano Drop at MIT
To mark the last day students can drop classes for the spring semester, the science nerds at MIT who will someday run this country manage to lug a piano—a non-functioning piano, they swear—up six floors to the top of Baker House dormitory. At this point, they—wait for it—shove it off the roof, onto another piano unknowingly waiting below. Cheers ensue. Students scramble for dismembered piano limbs to, I dunno, sit on their shelves? Throw away after the dust gets to them? String an ivory key and wear it around their necks as a badge of honor? This all began in 1972, since captured on the cover of Tim Hecker's album Ravedeath, 1972 (he liked the idea of "digital garbage" associated with the collision's noise) and the video above. Immortal words: "My roommate helped push it over. I feel proud."
Mountain Day, Etc. at Smith College
Stretching back from 1877, in what should really be a national holiday, the president of the all-women liberal arts institution rings the college bells on a crisp, blue-skyed fall day, signaling a surprise day off from classes. This isn't fair. People aren't allowed to be as happy as they appear in that video. Keeping things classy and envy-worthy, the school continues to abide by "Thursday candlelight dinners" to carry the tradition of "elegant family-style dining" dating back before the 1970s when dinners in campus housing were served family style. (This was before students got all picky in the modern times and lobbied for more menu choices.) Fridays are marked by afternoon tea in housing common rooms, where we assume bracelets and feminism are discussed in detail. (Kidding about that last part.)
The Excessively Overdressed Quad Stroll at Tufts University
When Tuft's end-of-fall-semester naked quad run was banned by the higher-ups in 2011 on account of of repeated hospitalizations for high alcohol-blood levels and twisted ankles, awesomely undeterred students dressed to the nines, linked arms, and slowly promenaded around the campus in the presence of amused police. Records show there were appearances by "a walking stick topped with a glass ruby," "a strange hat," "an Hawaiian vest" and "a blue sequined dress" (worn by a student holding a teacup) in the inaugural stroll, leaving students hopeful a new tradition has begun.
4/20 Smoke Out at Colorado University-Boulder
This one's fairly self-explanatory. You have 13,000 people lighting up at 4:20pm on April 20 in the presence of bongo drums. Authorities have succeeded in shutting down students' pot party efforts the last two years, though, even covering the quad in a fish-based fertilizer in 2012 to deter the crowd, which is a shame because the commentary in the video above is enlightening (bonsai trees really are something else). With Colorado's recreational marijuana legalization coming into effect this year, this could be the spring the Great Smoke Out is resurrected.
Primal Scream at Northwestern University
Northwestern's mascot is a wildcat, which evidently gives students the confidence to scream, primally, three times a year, at 9pm, on the Sunday before finals week. Stress relief, you know?
Orgo Night at Columbia University
In another sweeping effort to release stress, the Columbia's marching band storms the main reading room of Butler Library at 11:59pm on the eve of the semester's Organic Chemistry final, notoriously the most challenging course at the Ivy League's school. A live rendition of the alma mater bookends an hour-long scripted series of jokes (often offensive, per the student protest groups in the video) and musical snippets designed to lighten their fellow students' distressed souls. Then said students return to studying, eventually graduate, and face a cold, hard world where they're forced to deal with stress alone, within, silently.