How to Combat Simmering School Spirit

Arya Vishwakarma ’25 in Opinions | May 12, 2023

This Wednesday, Lawrenceville hosted Community Day, a day designed to tackle the school’s cultural problems with our usual strategy: students gathered around Harkness tables, coming up with solutions in small, approachable settings (unusually, though, while painting, making pasta, or watching the Matrix). This day was an important time to reflect on our culture at Lawrenceville, and specifically on our school spirit. From the outside, Lawrentians seem awash in school spirit. The intimacy of our learning model—class sizes in the single digits, close student-teacher bonds, and the limited size of the school itself—fosters deep personal growth through connections with other equally motivated students. Our alumni seem passionate about giving back to the School, collectively contributing over 7 million dollars a year. Our teams consistently compete at a high level in athletic championships and academic competitions in order to bring glory to Big Red. However, current and former Lawrentians’ sense of investment in the well-being of the community is not a strong enough force to unite students from different social groups; our spirit only functionally extends to the circles we’ve been invited into. 
Lawrentians have very strong ties to certain subsets of campus: athletic teams and active clubs come to mind, but the organization with the strongest influence on one’s identity is their House, which ideally provides them with a built-in support network of friends and trusted adults and infuses them with a cultural tradition that is, in some cases, centuries old. Unsurprisingly, the House system also seems to fulfill its mission statement, dividing students into smaller subgroups that each create a unique sense of pride and community. House Councils take interest in the well-being of the house by planning events, a marker of their commitment to a community they did not choose but grew to love. If this isn’t spirit, what is? 
The Circle and Crescent houses propagate community by being inescapable. However, other groups on campus surrogate family structures by being selective—the Boards of publications and large clubs, varsity athletic teams, and even the academic Scholars programs are all opt-in structures that Lawrentians apply to be accepted into. For those who scrape a spot in one of these groups, the experience undoubtedly provides its fair share of challenges, rewards, and bonding with peers. What about those who don’t? If it’s even worth it to look, where should we be able to find a sense of Lawrenceville spirit that connects students with different interests?  
Students in different Houses, sports, and clubs don’t usually get a chance to interact beyond the mandatory school meetings every week. Yet I think I speak for many when I say most of my school meetings are spent wishing I was sitting with my friends. If our major gathering event serves to only drive us apart and make us wish we were sitting with the same people we choose to spend our time with, what does that say about the baseline of community we feel with an arbitrarily chosen Lawrentian? When excitement about simply being a part of the School is low, the mood left in its absence is often apathy, which can be incredibly isolating. Feeling disconnected from the greater community means that one’s only pillars of support are the kids closest to them, if they exist at all. 
School spirit would mean more than coming to pep rallies—it would mean a feeling of trust and amiability even with Lawrentians one doesn’t know. Every year, the Student Council promises to create social events that are appealing to wide swaths of the population, because they are some of the only opportunities to spontaneously meet people outside of your social circle. In my opinion, true school spirit is compassion—it is an investment in the well-being of others because everyone here needs to thrive for the school to flourish. It’s possible to experience this motivation towards collective success at sports games where people cheer Lawrentian teams for sports they don’t play, or the raucous applause at the end of every Periwig production. Passion is scoring a game-winning goal or bringing an audience to tears; spirit is feeling a personal win while watching your friends do the same. Spirit is approaching someone in Tsai who’s struggling or sitting alone, or offering to study with someone in your French class you don’t know but would like to. It is the broadening of who we care about to the school at large. 
Even though the transitional nature of the spring might work to “clump” students and isolate friend groups through announcements of leadership positions and Scholarly designations, its weather and hopeful atmosphere make it in some ways an ideal time for the administration and student leadership to work to foster more diverse relationships. A stronger connection to Big Red would make students feel valued as unique parts of a greater community instead and not just amalgamations of smaller ones. In order to foster more school pride, the administration could fund buses to major sporting events, or design more events that propagate unlikely friendships such as Splash. Inter-school dances or socials are one way to reinforce Lawrentian identity, and community service another. In any case, the steps we take must be deliberate in provoking change; school spirit can’t bloom if we don’t tend to it.