Homecoming 2009: Memoirs of a ’13

By Adam I.W. Schwartzman

It was getting on into the evening and I was getting on in my own way. The liquor was so dubious we might as well have called it hooch, but at $11 a handle, who was complaining?

I was holed up in McLaughlin, green on my face and rye in my stomach, and I was raring to go. There was electricity in the air and everyone felt it. We alternated between packed rooms and Occom Commons. The former had sips of vodka and excited chatter; the latter was replete with sugary snacks and green face paint. Both suited the mood perfectly. We were knocking in our boots. 

Homecoming! We’d all heard legends of big weekends, shithoused alumni and wild nights that inevitably led to regret-laced mornings. We were all alike in that respect, and alike in one more: we had yet to experience it ourselves. 

Our UGA had warned us that things would get rowdy. There would be scores of alumni here, and only two rules to abide by: don’t fight or hook up with alumni. I prayed I could be so lucky. 

The plan was to join the “freshman sweep” at our appointed hour, march through town, and converge on the Green to run around the fire and bravely face whoever awaited us there, no doubt upperclassmen eagerly preparing to heckle us into oblivion.

And so we went on our way. From McLaughlin we ran to another cluster, and another, and another, until roughly 1,000 screaming freshmen ran together as one: a singular mob of flaring hormones and unmatched new-schoolery.

By the time we made it to Main Street, I was sweating bullets. We knew that the fire would be hot and that we would regret our long sleeves. Of course, none of us had paid any heed to that fear, and we formed a picture of conformity: a sea of long-sleeved “’13” shirts and jeans. I looked at my compatriots and began to wonder which of us would make it through the night. Who would make it the revered 113 laps around the fire? Who would be so bold as to risk life and limb (and certain arrest) to touch it? Who wouldn’t make it around once?

We marched up Main Street and made it to the Green, where already stood what seemed like the entirety of the student body, dumb-faced freshmen grins and all. They watched us eagerly as we made our approach, and we took no notice of them. Our thousands of eyes were focused on one thing and one thing alone: the prodigious blaze in the center of the Green.

The running took off more slowly than I expected. We gradually lurched into motion until we were galloping away. At points I would link up with friends, only to lose them in the crowd. Just as we had combined in the freshman sweep, the freshman class seemed to coalesce into a single entity. Individuals ceased to exist.

It wasn’t long before the hazing began. Everyone encircling the freshmen began to berate us, the crueler-minded throwing out elbows and legs. Some were worse than others, but every one was vicious in his or her own respect; even familiar faces jeered. It was unclear whether or not the ritualistic hazing was tongue-in-cheek, but I could see that it was getting to some. For most, however, it was just white noise, a barely audible background to our run. We were in the spotlight and no one else was of any concern.

At one point during the run I spotted a smirking Psi U pledge decked out in his uniform. The boots, jeans, and inside-out sweatshirt were all standard, but his hat made him stand out like a sore thumb. Indeed, on top of his head rested what can only be described as a roast chicken dinner. 

In my half-drunken, adrenaline-fueled state, that hat called to me and I had to have it. That impetus, along with sufficient goading from a fellow ’13, was all it took and before I knew it the pledge was upon me. I snatched the chicken hat and, before Mr. Pledge knew what had hit him, I was back on my merry way around the fire, or so I thought. My euphoria lasted for ten steps or so before the ground came up fast under me.  

As it turns out, Mr. Pledge was more than cognizant of my attempted heist than I had suspected. How could he be? I knew that I was unmatched in dexterity and my clothes more than blended in with the crowd! But then it hit me, almost as hard as the packed dirt under my head: I was hammered and jogging around the fire in a hat shaped like a chicken. 

Indeed, as I pieced together later, the owner of the chicken hat, Mr. Pledge himself, had joined in the festivities of the ‘13’s until he caught up to me, at which point he expertly tackled me. He was out for blood. If it hadn’t been for my fellow ’13 pulling the pledge off — ironically the very same ‘13 who influenced me to steal the hat in the first place — there’s no telling what type of beating my fragile ego would have been forced to endure. 

But as the alcohol still flowed in my veins and I was all the more pumped up, I was no worse for the wear. I shrugged off the brief encounter and resumed my normal pace around the fire. I was struck by the stark contrast between the cold night air and the heat of the blaze. I had heard rumors that people close to the fire came damn near close to third degree burns, but without verification I could only speculate.

As people fell off, I grew tired of the blaze. I had lost track of my laps long ago and decided that it was high time to relocate. I exited the ring of runners, which by that point consisted largely of Nordic skiers, scantily clad and required by the higher-ups of their organization to run the full 113 laps that could only be achieved through blind devotion to tradition, indiscriminate excitement, and above all, sheer athletic ability. I certainly lacked the latter. 

That was the end of my bonfire experience, the true beginning of my Homecoming weekend and, in many ways, my formal introduction into the student body of Dartmouth College. I may have been a lowly freshman, but in time I knew that I would transcend the restrictive bonds of youth and grow to become a defining member of the College on the Hill. 

But in the moment, it was time for me to be on my way. I proceeded from the Green to make a quick change of clothes. Then I was off to wherever the night would take me, whether it be sneaking into young alumni events across campus (unsuccessfully) or stealing grain alcohol from fraternal organizations that will not be named (Chi Gam).