This morning in Williamstown the Thompson Chapel bells rang, the outing club banged on the doors of Frosh Quad and Mission, and President Falk sent out an email that the entire student body was waiting for: “It’s Mountain Day!”
All across the country and around the world, Eph alumni paused and turned their thoughts toward Western Massachusetts.
It’s been two and a half years since I graduated from Williams. During that time I’ve moved to a new city, worked at a new job, made new friends, and most recently, hit the road to see places I never knew existed. I’m writing this post from the library of Northwest Missouri State University. Though my post-college life is undeniably entwined with Williams – my current job, after all, is to interview Eph alumni – I rarely find myself thinking back to my college days. There is so much to do, so much to see on a daily basis that I’m almost always looking forward not back.
That changes on Mountain Day. Every Mountain Day since I’ve graduated, I’ve woken up wishing that I was back in Mission, back making the morning hike up Stone Hill and the afternoon one up to Stony Ledge, back to the bus rides and a cappella songs, back to the sweatshirts and piles of leaves. I do my best to pay tribute with a short hike, some donuts, and hot apple cider, but it’s never the same. Mountain Day brings me back to my time in Williamstown, and though it will always make me nostalgic, it also makes me that much more grateful.
What an unbelievable tradition. Over a thousand students hiking three miles up a mountain for no other reason than it’s a nice day in October. It’s easy to take the fact that nearly everyone makes that hike for granted – to think that that sort of thing happens everywhere.
While I’m traveling this fall, I’m spending my weekends at different college campuses, working on a side project about the culture of college football (you can check it out at gamedayoncampus.com). I’ve been to the biggest, most tradition rich schools out there: Georgia, Notre Dame, Iowa. These places are known for the camaraderie of their student sections, for the intensity of their fans. All their televised traditions and hyped-up cheers have nothing on what happens every fall on Stony Ledge.
A friend of mine emailed me an article yesterday in which the author argued that the sport of football was inherently too dangerous to be allowed to continue. He went on to discuss how great it would be to have the same enthusiasm you see for football at other, less destructive events. My first reaction was that this was unrealistic. Football at these campuses is huge. “Students will never come together for anything else,” I thought.
Right on cue, the Mountain Day texts started coming through. Pictures of students gathering on Chapin lawn, hiking up steep trails, listening to their peers sing. I get chills just thinking about it.
Many of the big football schools are offering giveaways and other incentives to convince students to show up at games. Even with the promise of free t-shirts and free tickets, students at these schools are choosing to stay away. But in Williamstown, students are leaving busy lives behind in order to take to the woods.
I didn’t officially decide to go to Williams until the last possible day – April 30, 2008. The night of my decision, I talked with my best friend who was in the process of finishing his freshman year at Williams. I was already leaning towards Williams, but one thought pushed it over the edge: how was I going to feel when I called him in October, and he told me that he was just getting back from Mountain Day?
Mountain Day is more than just a fun day. It is a symbol for the Williams community. The fact that we can come together for something so simple, something so pure speaks to the power of that community. We don’t need fancy stadiums or sporting events on ESPN to get excited. Beautiful scenery, good music, and the company of the student body will do just fine.
When I left Williams, I missed a lot of things: seeing my friends all the time, eating meals that were prepared for me, listening to engaging lectures. I even missed spending time in libraries. What I missed the most, what I’ve come to appreciate the most, was the Williams community. There are a lot of great things about Williams – but the passion with which students pursue their interests, the earnestness with which they engage in tough conversations, and the enthusiasm with which they come together for something as simple as Mountain Day is truly unmatched. Williams taught me to value that community: to strive to make it better, but also to appreciate its quirks and to make time to celebrate in its strength.
Today I remember my four Mountain Days as a student – the crisp air, the sweet apples, the red-orange foliage. I also remember all the people that made those moments so special – my friends, JAs, professors, Scott Lewis, and so many others.
Here in Middle America, I’m writing to express my gratitude to them, to my Williams family. No matter where I go, on the first nice Friday in October, my thoughts will return to Williamstown, to home.
Forever Go Ephs!