Every day at five o’clock, a student bell ringer plays the bells of Gunnison Memorial Chapel. From all across campus you can hear bells chiming, playing everything from the alma mater, to a “Happy Birthday” request, to something that sounds suspiciously like the Flintstones theme song. It’s my favorite part of the afternoon: the bells marking the end of the day and telling the time like no watch ever could.
As an Admissions tour guide, I get asked a lot of questions. I love it when prospective students ask me questions on tours; they allow me to tailor the visit to their interests, helps me get to know them, and gives me the chance to tell the stories about my time here - stories that aren’t included in the SLU viewbook.
Some questions are common: “How’s the food?” Some are a little bizarre: “What’s the school’s policy on open flame?” And there are always some that are an attempt to stump the tour guide, “Was this school your first choice?”
My favorite question to answer is: “What is your favorite St. Lawrence tradition?”
It’s a great question to ask a tour guide. The school’s traditions are what makes it special. A lot of schools are going to have great study abroad programs and small student-to-faculty ratios, but the traditions are the heart of an institution; they are what makes you fall in love with being there.
My favorite tradition is looking up from my walk home from class and realizing that it must be five o’clock, because I can hear the bells ringing. While the St. Lawrence calendar is chock full of traditions, from the Candlelight Experience to Clarkson-related hockey chants, mine is my favorite because it happens daily and because of the day when it almost didn’t happen.
Early Sunday morning, of my very first Family Weekend during my freshman year, there was an electrical fire in the chapel that melted Gunnison’s unique copper spire. Canton’s volunteer fire department arrived on the scene within four minutes and saved the chapel, but in the strong winds of the next morning, the burnt spire fell to the ground.
Standing as one of the tallest landmarks in the St. Lawrence Valley, Gunnison is a staple of the surrounding skyline, our North Country Empire State Building. The entire St. Lawrence community, near and far, was affected by the falling of the spire. While we may have recognized that the damage was only temporary, we did wonder: what will happen at five o’clock? Even though the actual bells were unharmed, the residual damage meant that we could not ring the bells that day. But we found another way.
Every student at St. Lawrence actually has their own bell. On the first day of Orientation, every first-year student receives a small, red bell from the Alumni Executive Council, labeled with your class year. So at five o’clock on the day that the spire fell, St. Lawrence students, faculty, and friends met on Creasy Commons outside of Gunnison and rang our own little bells.
After that, the school attached a speaker to the outside of Richardson, the building next to the chapel, and played a recording of the bells every day at five o’clock for the next year and a half while Gunnison was under restoration. It wasn’t quite the same as the real bells accompanying me on my walk home from class, but it was pretty darn close.
Almost four years later, I still have my little red bell. Looking at it reminds me of my love for St. Lawrence, both for the campus and our dedicated, supportive community. Emblazoned with the words “Class of 2017”, my bell sits on my desk, as it will on whatever desk I find myself behind after I graduate in May. As a senior, you begin to ask yourself questions that you never thought you’d have: what you’re doing, where you are, and where you’re going. And while I might not know where I’m going right now, I know that wherever I end up, I’ll be bringing a little St. Lawrence with me.
I sometimes (okay, all the time...) get worried about what I will be leaving behind, this place and its people. But as I look around, I’m starting to realize that St. Lawrence traditions extend way beyond campus. My mom for instance, SLU class of ‘81, still goes on ‘Girls Weekend’ every year with her favorite Laurentians some 35 years after they left Canton. My post-grad friends are living together in Boston, D.C., New York City, and even out west. Any Instagram search of the St. Lawrence hashtags yields hundreds of posts of alums from all over proudly displaying their scarlet and brown.
Come spring, I will move my bell from where it sits now to its new home, and hope that people ask me about it so I can share my favorite story about my favorite place. I’m beginning to learn that wherever I go, St. Lawrence will always come, too. It doesn’t matter how far away you are from Canton, if you listen close enough at five o’clock, you just might hear Gunnison’s chapel bells.