Editorial Notebook

Traditions change often

As a graduating co-terminal student, I have been at RPI for 5 years. I have seen the Statler & Waldorf come and go, a Grand Marshal disappear, and the Faculty Senate claw tooth and nail to be reinstated. I have stayed awake to the wee hours of the morning trying to find the correct headline to place above an article, and I have collapsed in exhaustion after the last day of classes. I have stories to share, advice to give, and experiences to dwell upon, but I will not discuss them here. You will all eventually develop your own lives here at Rensselaer, and mine will soon be irrelevant to any part of campus.

And that is what I want to convey to you all in this editorial: RPI is an always-changing entity with new students, old alumni, an ever-changing administration with new policies, programs, initiatives, buildings, et cetera. My RPI will be very different from your RPI, even just next year. In many ways it will remain the same–for example, The Poly will struggle each week to churn out the paper and a new Grand Marshal and President of the Union will be elected each year, but eventually the traditions we take for granted will evaporate. Things such as beer in the Rathskeller have been removed due to federal law. Others, such as a time when students voted on changes to the Student Handbook, are conveniently forgotten about.

When freshmen arrive, they are thrust into a variable community. They find their place and create new groups, thus reshaping the RPI world. The upperclassmen keep traditions alive—things such as the Inanimate Objects Part,y who sponsors Arthur Galpin or the Moose for Grand Marshal. When those people graduate, the energy to maintain such traditions often leaves and things that were perceived as always existing suddenly cease.

What is often surprising is that many of these traditions are relatively new in RPI’s history. For example, there exists a wall in the back room of the Poly office that displays the pictures of past and present staff members. When I joined The Poly years ago, I believed that I would eventually get my portrait to grace the glorious brick wall; I thought it was a right given to all editors. Unfortunately, this display was created by an alumnus who graduated only a few years before I joined the paper. The pictures were not some long-standing tradition, but a simple photo editor a few years back being creative with the Poly staff.

We, as a student body, lack an institutional memory; we look to our elders to find direction and a sense of cultural knowledge regarding this strange and unfamiliar place. Professors and administration tell us of what the past was like, but only in their own context; the Board of Trustees will tell you of the time when almost everyone was part of a greek organization, your professors will discuss a time when the Electrical Engineering department dominated the School of Engineering due to its large size. Through these narratives, students gain an understanding of what they think RPI is and what it should be.

The Institute is a being that is what we make of it. We choose what traditions we discard and which ones we renew to the next generation. Sure, the hockey line is a pathetic remnant of what it once was (it’s still surviving though!) but we are still passionate about our team! We celebrate this in other ways by keeping hockey chants alive and strong.

Groups such as weR work to keep RPI’s sense of community strong and united. And these groups are very necessary at times; with such a varied and work saturated populace, we often become embittered by the lack of school spirit or rich traditions surrounding campus as a whole. Students can lose the sense of togetherness within the whole RPI community. Students instead, tend to find these moments within smaller groups such as fraternities or clubs; each person finds their own community and develops their sense of historical tradition.

This current year has been marked by relative stability at Rensselaer; the only new policy change was regarding the GM/PU grade point averages, and that is not generally discussed. Compared with the past five years I have spent at this Institute, RPI is experiencing a relative lull in activity. We cannot see most of the change in the works, but, soon, the Jonsson-Rowland building will be a square, rather than just an “L.” Maybe the mural in the back room of the Poly office will be taken down or expanded upon. I look forward to visiting RPI in the future to see the changes and events.

Good luck, RPI!