School Spirit

by: Brian Bauld

Asking me to write on school spirit is like asking the Pope to urge a greater appreciation for gangsta rap--one feels there must be someone better equipped for the task. Still, the mind is tempted to wander/wonder. The school spirits imbibed at the obligatory Friday night parties (yes what are students party to at these events one wonders) come to mind, but, however worthwhile a tirade against these semi-public exhibitions of peer pressure might be, it seems unfair to take my given topic and so misshape it. So I will wonder about a school with spirit.

School spirit is the enthusiasm one feels, and exhibits, for being a part of the school. The evidence that a school has spirit is often associated with the noise people make at public events, and so the public events take on special importance as the venues for the public declaration of one's spirit. The more hoots and hollers at a soccer match, the more high fives at a basketball game, the more camaraderie in preparation for the musical recital, the more the school spirit. Spirit as noise. Noise expressing pride. Pride reflecting... what? Satisfaction in beating our opponent? in the fellowship participation brings? in the privilege earned through membership? This kind of rah-rah spirit is no doubt essential and constructive, but sometimes it can seem to be a manufactured enthusiasm - like, you know, ain't it cool, man, what a blast, these are the best years of our lives. Darkly, I recall Dickens' Pip who observed of his own youth that, "There was a gay fiction among us that we were constantly enjoying ourselves, and a skeleton truth that we never did." Or, echoing Thoreau: do too many students lead lives of both quiet and noisy desperation? We need more voices raised in support of what school can offer young minds.

I think of those schools with reputations that inspire pride and respect at the mention of the name. Who wouldn't like to attend Oxford or Cambridge? The names stand for something. I have a friend who glows with double pride because he attended Upper Canada College as a student, and attends now as a teacher. His pride of school outweighs the pride in his profession. What goes on at these institutions, one wonders, to promote such spirited allegiance? Is it the number of sports victories, the size of the band, the number of computers, the quality of the cafeteria food, the loudness of the music at the dances? What else is there?

Is there another measure of school spirit than fun? What a school offers is education--an elitist enterprise dedicated to a vision of improvement and excellence. Let students value Amherst as a place qualified to offer such education. This should be the abiding question of all students and teachers: what is an education and how can I give/get one? What a spirit can arise from this! When the "good times" are remembered as the exacting excitement of a physics problem, the expanding pleasures of a second language, the elegant beauty of mathematical propositions, the healthy confusions of literary study, the psychic highs of athletic endeavor, the self-discovery in the pursuit of the past, the humbling assurance that we are not alone-- that Plato and Augustine and Donne and Frost know our minds and link us together; in short, when we feel that going to school is our chance for freedom, not bondage, then a spirit is born both lasting and true. "We don't want no education" --so goes the modern cry of anarchy--but take it literally and let it be your cry. Demand an education, make us provide it, quell the vandals who would wreck our efforts, drive out the infidel who lives for the day. Let there be vision. That taxpayers should so love their young, and so value knowledge, as to construct monasteries of learning! Park your other self at the door, put on your habit, and let's get spiritedly spiritual about school. Chances like this may not come again.