Dartmouth students reflect on the beloved and quirky tradition of legacies and how it fosters a sense of community within campus organizations.
A normal spring in Dartmouth means studying outdoors, Green Key and graduation, but there is another spring tradition that sums up Dartmouth culture: legacies. All types of campus clubs and organizations share this tradition of transmitting articles among its members. Ceremonies vary, but each spring Elders collect the items they wish to pass on and ‘bequeath’ – Dartmouth students tend to use ‘legacy’ both as a noun and as a verb, although technically the verb or “bequeath” them to the younger members of their various organizations. It’s both story and hilarity as meaningful objects dating back several years, drawn with names of old ones, change hands – followed by a dinosaur onesie from Walmart.
Alana McClements ’22 recalled the Ledyard Canoe Club legacy ceremony of her freshman spring. Members of the Class of 2019 gathered on the roof of the Ledyard Canoe Clubhouse with their bags of flair and gave short speeches for each item. McClements described the ceremony as “kind of like an awards system,” where club members received bequests for real personal qualities. For example, a sunny yellow shirt could be given to a particularly positive person. Bequests are also received in honor of fun superlatives, like the Ledyardite who swam the most on the club’s annual whitewater paddling trip after accidentally spilling his kayak and failing to get up.
McClements recalled an unusual bequest she received: a “ridiculously large” sign from Tremblant, a ski resort in Canada, which had been passed on by students of Ski Patrol and Ledyard.
“It was a huge inconvenience to store, but a lot of fun,” McClements added.
This affectionate exasperation highlights a common theme: Bequests are often strange and bulky objects with years of memories often associated.
“They’re meaningful because of who gives them to you,” John Perrotti ’21 said of the many random t-shirts given to him by his brothers in the Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity.
Perrotti’s favorite legacy is a 1988 Homecoming Shirt that has been handed down by Alpha Chi members for decades; he described the legacy as a “really cool historical artifact”. As Alpha Chi members bequeathed dozens of different items each year, Perrotti said the fraternity emphasizes historical legacies rather than original items to increase the connection between the classes.
Brian Lee 22 received a mystifying legacy from improv group Dog Day Players, both eccentric and historic: a piece of construction paper that reads, “My name is Anna and I’m a freshman. Laugh at me ”, except that“ Freshman ”is crossed out and replaced by“ Freshperson ”.
Lee has said that not all of his bequests are valuable to him in a logical sense, but they are precious nonetheless.
“A shirt [I was bequested] has a bunch of initials that really don’t mean anything – I’ve never met these people – but I know for a fact that someone at Dog Day wore it at one point, and it just makes me wanna not lose the shirt, ”Lee said. “It’s more than just the object; you don’t want to lose that piece of history and that club spirit. “
Do I want a piece of construction paper with a statement that doesn’t make sense to me? Not particularly. But I imagine Anna in Dartmouth in 2011 cracking an inside joke and writing it down on a piece of paper, and I smile: Legacies create laughter and connection years apart.
Perrotti agreed, noting that bequests “bind students to alumni.”
“Having that connection between classes is important,” Perrotti said. “We try to be a school that is very connected to alumni, and the legacies add to that feeling.”
When discussing historical value, it is natural to think only of old ones, but legacies are history in the making – new items come into circulation every year. According to Lee, one of Dog Day’s new legacies this year is not an item, but an activity started by two members of the 2021 class. Both were roommates and had quarterly season-themed photoshoots; the club wants to make it a tradition.
While bequests aim to foster a greater sense of community within organizations, McClements stressed that a side effect of club bonds is exclusion, especially in large groups. McClements noted that bequest ceremonies can highlight favoritism within clubs, as some members will inevitably receive more coveted bequests than others. The public discourse that accompanies the legacy to Ledyard can reinforce these feelings of favoritism and exclusion. The alternative is to give bequests privately, which McClements experienced last spring due to the pandemic. Instead of a public bequest ceremony, a member of the Class of 2020 came to her home to give her a bequest accompanied by a speech.
“It’s a two-person exchange, and it’s good when it’s personal like that, so I think it would get rid of the show-like component,” McClements said. “But if you did it privately, that would also lose the component of the club’s history passed down.”
McClements pointed out an important legacy: the jacket of an influential Ledyardite woman who, for many, represented the power of women in the club. This legacy could have lost some of its power if it had been given in private.
“Sometimes legacies are a little socially stressful, but I haven’t been through enough stress to really make me think it’s a problem that needs to be resolved or something that needs to be changed,” said McClements. “It’s just something to be aware of.”
COVID-19 disrupted public ceremonies, and some club members wondered if the pandemic had robbed them of some potential legacies as well.
Last spring, students quickly dispersed across the world, and the legacies were hidden in campus warehouses or in parents’ basements. According to Perrotti, it was as if “the legacies were lost in time”.
McClements added that as the campus starts to look more normal, members of the upper class will have to work to restore the club’s past traditions like legacies.
“I think part of the job we will have to do, especially as seniors next year, is to bring back the culture of the club and get people excited about it in ways that I just don’t think. not possible with COVID, ”McClements said.
As we return to a more familiar Dartmouth, this tradition probably isn’t high on anyone’s post-COVID-19 priority list, but I look forward to future legacies that will change hands instead of collecting dust . Perrotti will bequeath a unique tiger painting given to him by his father, Lee will bequeath a sign that says “Clean up after your dog.” It’s the law ”with an educational illustration and McClements will bequeath his iconic crown that tops many stylish outfits. These objects are small pieces of student life, collecting fingerprints and stories for their future owners. I hope they will earn a smile of 32 in ten years.