t was a pointed question. A well-known
Laurentian attending his 50th class re-
union asked me, “If you were to charter
and build St. Lawrence today, would you have
all the departments, teams, activities, facilities
and houses that now exist? What would be
most essential?”
Tradition,” I said.
College life is always evolving, constantly
refreshing itself, and naturally letting go of
once-popular campus occasions for which many
remain nostalgic. The social scene of yesteryear
included “boonies” (let’s just leave its defini-
tion and defense in the vague recollection of
Friday night barn parties). For several decades,
the Alpha Ball and the Beta Pirate Party were
perennial venues for live music. These particular
traditions died out, though assuredly, equiva-
lent “Stand By Me” last dances still inspire
starlight formals. Social patterns change.
Or do they?
Jerome Robbins once explained that
on the Roof
is about the dissolution of tradition
and that the point of the show is to give the
audience an understanding of what that tradi-
tion was, and still is. Similarly, we are left with
a pivotal intellectual and scholastic quandary
about the potential demise of tradition at
beloved places of learning. And yet, while much
is new and different for me, “an old grad,”
tradition lives vividly and is absolutely vital to
St. Lawrence’s future.
The colors, the music, the seal, the bells, the
motto, the shield, the landmarks, the ceremo-
nies all matter. Tradition differentiates a single
college from all others; the familiar habits and
rhythms of a college project a hope that origi-
nates in a living past, allowing us to belong,
somehow, to more than one era. Without fully
knowing why, we naturally seek our own place
in the unbroken lines of tradition.
It may come to us as the lived experience
Wordsworth discovers when revisiting places
of his youth, such as Yarrow River, an eloquent
hope of affirmation in the midst of time and
chance that an unchanging moment remains
steady no matter how long ago it was first felt
to be real. His poem reminds me of swimming
in the Grasse River at the Sandbanks on a warm
September or May afternoon and all that it re-
calls of a distant yet ever-present day. Tradition
matters as a means to strengthen the best, most
magical personal memories.
Meanwhile, just what is the root concept
behind the St. Lawrence tradition? Our stu-
dents still learn that good deeds make possible
good hours. There is both historical and literary
warrant for linking two ideas of “good” into
a single answer. From Periclean Athens to late
Roman antiquity, an arc of nearly a thousand
years, historians of the Mediterranean basin
discuss a phenomenon in North African and
European cities: private individuals, not govern-
ments, built beautiful public works, such as
baths, temples and theatres. Scholars have aptly
if clumsily named this practice “euergetism” (a
tongue-twister derived from elementary Greek:
I do good things”).
St. Lawrence, in its splendid buildings,
endowed scholarships, various lectureships and
professorial chairs, has known countless people
who understood this “euergetistic” tradition of
wanting to do good deeds. This same spirit also
infuses and explains the St. Lawrence way of
looking out for each other. St. Lawrence alumni
show up” for their college friends; they do so
for our students, too, in a consistency of faith-
fulness not replicated anywhere else in life.
This tradition of good deeds creates for
students what Robert Frost called “good hours.”
He sets the scene: “I had for my winter evening
walk--/ No one at all with whom to talk/ But I
had cottages in a row/ Up to their shining eyes
in snow.” There is a moment of self-confidence
in this message that teaches the wisdom of
stepping outside your circle to reflect a while
on who you want to become. It’s a good hour,
indeed, a grand tradition, when St. Lawrence,
whether on snowy paths or by living streams,
changes the lives “Of youthful forms and
youthful faces.”
All for the scarlet and the brown…always.
WI LL IAM L . FOX ’ 75
The Task of Tradition
Tom Evelyn
Neal S. Burdick ’72
University Writer
Meg Bernier ’07, M ’09
Tara Freeman
Class Notes Editor
Sharon Henry
News Editor
Macreena Doyle
Design & Art Direction
Jessica Rood
Class Notes Design
Alex Rhea
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