Today’s Culture, Tomorrow’s Tradition

in Editorials | September 9, 2023

          This past week, Head of School Stephen Murray H’54 ’55 ’65 ’16 P’16 ’21 swore in a new generation of Lawrentians at the annual Convocation ceremony. This tradition has persisted for years, honoring the 214 year history of the Lawrenceville School and all of the students who came to define that legacy. Yet only 213 years of Lawrenceville have really been sworn in, as far as the recent student bodies' memories serve—the Class of 2024, or the class of the year of the plague, never received that opportunity. Here are the V Formers, leaders, and friends, still thriving across campus in spite of this fact. Yet in stressing a “return to normalcy” Lawrenceville suggests with the arrival and slow departure of Covid-19, countless Lawrenceville traditions have been lost.

          With the loss of the old, however, comes the opportunity to build anew. Though students who experienced the Covid-19 years might have missed the old campus traditions that existed pre-Covid, we do not have to return to the old in order to "return to normalcy." We have instead the ability to forge our own post-Covid Lawrenceville, and it's up to us, the Class of 2024 and beyond, to seize that chance.

          Three years ago, the current V Form class arrived in boxes. On Zoom, hundreds of thousand-yard stares in cameras became classrooms, strangling our ability to physically connect with one another (or at least keeping us six feet apart.) It is unmistakable that the Fall Term of 2020 was difficult. Many students likely still recount the threat of the missed spit test or the paranoia of the ever-blinking POM tracer.

          Yet Lawrenceville persevered. Today, among the Upperform, most if not all of us can attest to the strong friendships we have formed, the hardships we have bested, and the leadership that we have collectively demonstrated across campus. We overcame the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, endured a year of distancing and a term of total digital isolation, and came out with enthusiasm for a new sophomore year, and an appreciation for both the School and each other.

          But we cannot overlook how Covid-19 pandemic razed many of Lawrenceville’s old traditions and clubs. Clubs such as the Young Democrats, an important political activism on campus, fell into disarray, while others, like Working Title, a long-form creative writing publication, ended up completely forgotten. The Class of 2024 never had the chance to experience the Ropes Course during freshman orientation, nor the induction ceremony mentioned beforehand, nor did they even get the chance to enjoy the simple pleasure of sitting close by friends and peers during their freshman year.

          But what would we have gotten had the Covid-19 pandemic not happened? In the past year, Lawrenceville's Covid-19 return policy has stressed a "return to normalcy." But what is normal? Over the past three years, Lawrenceville has consistently been transforming from the school it once was. On an obvious level, the student body has transformed, but with it, more subtle changes to campus culture and corresponding extracurriculars and traditions have occurred as well. Someday, you will pick up a mirror and realize the face you once had no longer exists. The Lawrenceville of the past no longer exists either—none of this year’s seniors were on campus to witness it—and so returning to the past becomes an unnecessary task driven mostly by nostalgic photos and stories from past seniors.

          The Board questions the need for us to return back to the old traditions of Lawrenceville. Tradition still matters, of course. But Lawrentians survive in spite of tradition’s absence, even reemerging to redefine it. The traditions of the future are ultimately the products of today, and by extension, the students reading this Editorial right now. Countless traditions and lasting clubs are the products of new, or relatively new, initiatives. The First Amendment, a staple publication on campus, is only 14 years old, paling in comparison to The Lawrence’s 143. Splash, perhaps one of Lawrenceville's most prized traditions, only began six years ago back in 2018. If it persists, Democracy Day will emerge as our campus’s newest tradition too, only a year old. Or perhaps these traditions and clubs will fade away in the following years as well. Nothing at Lawrenceville needs to be permanent.

          Old traditions still survive. Convocation still happened just this week. But old traditions sometimes fade into the past as well. On the eve of the U.S.’s participation in World War II, there exist records of the Woodhull House winning a trophy that no longer exists for a competition that no longer exists either. Without the students who fought for that competition the Woodhull House won, though, what value would that trophy and competition hold? Even the Woodhull House's House Olympics win this past week may become a footnote in the House's history in the next many years. 

          Though we have an instinct to return to the old, nostalgia tends to depict the past through rose-tinted lenses. Perhaps the only tradition Lawrenceville needs to restore is its dynamic culture of change and student creation. We the students are now sowers of the future, and it's up to us to grow campus culture according to our desires, expectations, and standards. Campus culture does not die with the defunct club or the outlived tradition—it lives with us, and the students to come. 

          Lawrenceville must embrace change; sometimes, the old does not return—and that is alright. Sometimes, a global pandemic ravages what once was. That is alright too. Clubs can pass away, traditions can fall apart, and they can sometimes resurface. Even if they do not , it is nothing to mourn. Ultimately, it is not the passage of time or growth that makes traditions and cultures bloom and decay. It is us. As Dean Davis mentioned during School Meeting, we the students choose what we want our campus cultures and traditions to become. It’s time for us, Lawrenceville, to decide which traditions, cultures, and clubs we will create for future Lawrentians to honor in the years to come.