How many times in your life have you played the game Scattergories?
For me, the answer to that question used to be zero. But that changed last Friday when I had the lucky opportunity to spend part of my weekend outside the Spring Fling bubble.
In my four years at Penn, I have never stepped foot in the Quadrangle during Spring Fling and never attended any of the concerts.
I’ve always found the conventional wisdom surrounding Spring Fling a little amusing.
Every year in early April, Penn starts to buzz. Everywhere you go, students start talking about the upcoming weekend. The Daily Pennsylvanian goes through a predictable phase in its reporting. This chattering builds Spring Fling up to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, even before freshmen set foot on campus.
While I’m sure the Social Planning and Events Committee works hard to pull off the weekend, I’ve always been concerned about how the prevailing mood affects individuals who don’t feel strongly about Spring Fling. President Richard Nixon once referred to this group — in a different context — as the “silent majority.”
The “silent majority” at Penn is the group of students who feels uncomfortable with aspects of the weekend but feels compelled to participate by their friends who are really enthusiastic about it. These people want one thing — a way to interact with other people they care about — and Spring Fling provides that opportunity.
So my message to these individuals is simple: there are ways to reach your goal without participating in Spring Fling.
During freshman year, a friend approached me with well-priced tickets for two Mets and Yankees games during Spring Fling. The games, on the same day, were in their two brand new stadiums against different teams. It’s rare that both teams have home games on the same day, so there was no way I was missing this doubleheader.
In the afternoon, we saw the Yankees’ first regular season win in their new stadium. And that evening, we saw Gary Sheffield’s 500th home run. The experience was completely removed from Spring Fling, but just as memorable.
Last year, a friend and I went to a Penn symphony orchestra concert in Irvine Auditorium that happened at the same time as the concert at Franklin Field. It turned out to be an epic mashup as you could hear Lupe Fiasco’s rhymes over the music of Hector Berlioz. Berlioz might have been slightly overshadowed, but that didn’t matter to me.
But this year’s Spring Fling helps me make my point best. On Friday, I went to the suburbs of Philadelphia and spent the entire evening talking and playing board games like Scattergories with a family I know. I even had the chance to plant some beets.
What did all of these experiences have in common?
They all involved memorable personal interactions.
These interactions probably would have been difficult to carry out as a part of the typical Spring Fling. The whole weekend is built around the idea of the momentary. After all, that’s why they call it a “fling.”
This is not directed at those who truly want to be part of the weekend’s events. As far as I’m concerned, as long as people follow the law and remain responsible, they are free to be part of Spring Fling.
But how do we encourage the “silent majority” (or maybe a silent minority) to feel okay with spending Spring Fling weekend in a different fashion?
Some have proposed devoting more University resources to alternative Spring Fling programs. However, more centralization and bureaucracy from Penn administrators will not get to the heart of the matter.
The answer has to come from individuals. Students need to seek out others and make a collective decision to do something different if they want to.
One thing I have learned at Penn is that conventional wisdom can often be wrong. In those situations, “marching to the beat of a different drummer,” as Henry David Thoreau recommended in Walden, has real value. Marching to this beat, though, requires a personal decision.
I don’t have a single drop of doubt or angst about my approach to Spring Fling.
Those entering Penn and those who still have a long way to go shouldn’t be afraid to pick a long conversation and a game of Scattergories over Spring Fling.
Charles Gray is a College and Wharton senior from Casper, Wyo. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The Gray Area appears every other Wednesday.