It was 7:30 p.m. on Friday night. Walking with my girlfriend, Jeannie, to Food Court from her dorm room in the Choates (she’s a UGA, I swear), we could tell there was something unusual in the air other than the pleasant briskness of a fall evening at Dartmouth. Green-clad ’10s, donning face paint and jubilantly carrying light-sticks, gamboled over to Brittle Lounge in preparation for The Sweep. Continuing our stroll toward fried-food scrumptiousness, we passed Russell Sage where myriad freshmen had formed the ultimate shmob, jumping up and down in unison and chanting “oh-ten, oh-ten” over and over again. Homecoming was upon us.
After leaving Foco with our stomachs content, we headed toward the unlit mass of timber that would soon become our great and comically dangerous bonfire. (How our administration can rationalize prohibiting kegs because of their potential danger while encouraging inebriated freshmen to run around a 60-foot heap of burning wood I’ll never understand — but that’s a different story.) There was something beautifully unifying about standing among alumni from all different class years as the newest members of the Dartmouth family were initiated into the greatest tradition in the Ivy League. There was even something charming about belligerent upperclassmen desperately begging unassuming freshmen to cause bodily harm to themselves by touching the fire. I couldn’t help but smile when a father and daughter, arm-in-arm, both wearing Dartmouth t-shirts, chanted in harmony, “Worst class ever!”
Homecoming is traditionally characterized by athletic competition. Yet the 2006 Dartmouth Homecoming was tremendously successful for a reason having nothing to do with games. Even with a heartbreaking loss by our football team to Holy Cross and without a Chi Gam dance party, Homecoming weekend showed each and every one of us the brilliant colors of the Dartmouth spirit.
Homecoming is truly a coming home for Dartmouth faces, old and young alike, as recently graduated students crashed on their old fraternity couches and not-so-recently graduated alumni pulled up to the Hanover Inn with their sparkling luxury cars, giving all those currently unemployed ’07s hope for the future. For one weekend every year, Dartmouth’s campus expands its bubble to fit its extended family (and their families), linking together all those who ever loved our College on the Hill. The “old traditions” of Dartmouth have recently taken on a negative connotation, largely because of sporadic op-eds in The Dartmouth concocted by disgruntled alumni as well as the self-glorifying intolerance spewed by a certain other publication on campus. I like to think, however, that the real “traditions” of Dartmouth take a uniquely human form in Homecoming, giving current students attending our fine institution a genuine look at those who most sincerely care about our school.
The role of sports during Dartmouth’s Homecoming is more symbolic than it is specific. Homecoming would not be what it is without a football game. Nevertheless, those coming to Dartmouth simply to watch high quality football numbered just a few. Yet even with the failings of Big Green football, Homecoming remains our only (almost) sold-out game of the season. The 2006 football game certainly represented much more than just an opportunity to beat Holy Cross. Instead, football on this day symbolized a moment to forget our opinions of the proposed alumni constitution. It was a chance to share in a rare but significant instance of total unification, no matter fraternity allegiances, journalistic affiliation or any of the other divisive forces which afflict our campus on a daily basis. It was, above all, an occasion to cheer our very loudest for Dartmouth College.
And while no one really came to Memorial Field expecting much from our underdogs, the Big Green played four periods of football that reminded the alumni of days of old. Dartmouth ran with, and even outplayed at times, the Patriot League’s top team. While our defense remained as porous as usual, our offense found a groove that had been missing for quite a while. Running plays were effective, passes were completed and Dartmouth was scoring. Indeed, 21 points may not seem like an offensive explosion, but for a team that had not cracked 14 in its first four games, it was an achievement to be proud of.
I have had objections with this school, as previous op-eds on corporate recruiting, the Off-Campus Programs Office and Yom Kippur will attest, but for all its faults Dartmouth is an amazing place with so much to offer so many wonderfully distinct individuals. We are a community of differences, but for one autumn afternoon, chilled to perfection, Dartmouth was one again. As fans came to their feet in anticipation of Andrew Kempler ’08’s field goal attempt with seven seconds remaining in the game, they stood, hit or miss, green T’s and all, together. And as the ball took an unfortunate tumble away from the uprights, Dartmouth remained resolutely at its very best.