Potpourri

When most people think of potpourri, they think of that weird flower stuff that’s sitting in the bathroom that you were expressly told not to eat as a child.

Maybe that’s just me. Maybe other people were smart enough as kids to not be told to eat stuff they found in the bathroom. Who’s to say, really?

For me, however, it conjures up a completely different mental image: one of the most important, and most meaningful, traditions at Furman.

There are a number of important traditions at Furman, sure. There’s the ceremonial freshman-birthday-laking, in which freshmen are baptized in the holy waters of e coli and lake slime.

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Unsurprisingly, the Game of Thrones fans on campus read way more into this tradition than the people who don’t have good taste in television.

There’s also a similar ritual, where the seniors will “fountainhop” on the last day of classes. In its original form, fountainhopping was a noble odyssey across Furman’s campus in the dead of night, with seniors jumping into each and every fountain on their last night as seniors. In its more modern form, fountainhopping consists of getting some inflatable tubes, turning the fountains in front of the library into a lazy river, and savoring the knowledge that the underclassmen have a few more years of final exams to suffer through.

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I can only assume completing college feels like pulling off the greatest casino heist in history. Except, you know, for the part where you leave with a lot of money.

I think both forms have their advantages.

Traditions are important because they give us an identity beyond our own. For as much as college is about finding yourself, it should also be a bit of finding beyond yourself.

And so, potpourri.

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a rare shot of Jesus-haired Ben Gamble in his prime.

This is a picture from my last improv show freshman year. At the final performance of each year we take part in potpourri – a tradition that’s pretty ancient as far as college traditions go. Improv has been on Furman’s campus for twenty-one years, and the ritual has only grown with each final show. At graduation, each member is given their “potpourri” – a kind of strange, quirky action and quote. Usually, this was their best joke or most memorable moment. For example, one alumnus accidentally slipped and faceplanted into the stage while trying to play a deer named Stephanie. So, in call-and-response form, the person leading potpourri shouts, “Stephanie!” and everyone proceeds to re-enact the mild concussing of a former improv’er.

There’s something really poetic about this tradition, that I think encapsulates the idea of all college traditions – they are fleeting. As time has gone on, the quotes and actions have naturally succumbed to the telephone effect. Thankfully, when improv’ers return for homecoming and see that their potpourri has been misremembered beyond all repair, they have a good sense of humor about it. There are people who have graduated ten or fifteen years ago whose jokes get to live on, in some way, in some form. We may not remember them perfectly, they may not be exactly as they were intended – but the point of traditions is that it’s not about just you. I may not know the reason or rationale behind it, but a part of the joy they brought people at Furman gets to stick around.

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It is, however, totally okay if the long-hair, backwards-hat look does not live on.

This is, of course, putting way more sentimentality into a college improv troupe than is probably warranted.

However, I think the idea of college is that you go and have a great four years. At the end of it, you have a degree (hopefully) and some good memories. And while the alumni council will argue that what really matters is the paychecks you send thereafter, I think the stuff that matters is this. The little traditions you take part of. Going into the belltower your last night on campus, fountainhopping, champagne toasting with President Davis – these are all great. But your home is by definition, yours, and the traditions you remember will be the ones you made, the ones you took part in and helped to pass down. Every now and then, a bunch of 18-year olds can do some pretty cool stuff. I think things like potpourri are one of them.

 

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