The Big Kiss…Off?

Stanford University was founded in 1891. One thing that set it apart from the start was the fact that it was coed, unusual at the time. Boys and girls together, gawrsh. It wasn’t long before these inventive youngsters came up with a rite that was doubtless daring at the time, but in our sepia-toned way-back mirror looks sweetly romantic now: Full Moon on the Quad. The way it works is freshmen become true Stanford men and women if and only if they are kissed by a senior at midnight in the Quad under the first full moon of the school year. The tradition has persisted so for over a century the place to be for the incoming and outgoing classes on that harvest moon is in front of Memorial Church, lips a-pucker.

This year however the event has fallen victim to that perfect storm of modern science, well-intentioned protectiveness, and media fear-mongering: the H1N1 virus. University officials canceled the event due to concern it could lead to a swine flu epidemic.

My first reaction on hearing this news was that the whole thing has become ickily seamy in recent decades, but I’d hate to see it go out like that.

full moon on the quadfull moon on the quad 2006I graduated from Stanford in a not-so-recent decade and yep, I went to FMOTQ once or twice during my time there. My memories are hazy but I recall it being a good time but a little too bacchanalian, not at all matching the intimate fantasy I had built up in my naive little head. (What’s that? You want to know if I was made there or a maker? Ah…but that would be telling.) I haven’t seen it since—I’d probably be arrested for lechery if I tried to crash—but from published accounts it hasn’t changed much. If anything it’s gotten a bit worse with cases of public drunkenness, lewd acts, and middle-aged lechers trying to crash.

The University has moved to protect its students and reputation by taking some control over the event, providing security, sanctioned entertainment, etc. It’s this element that they canceled. On the face of it it’s not a bad call. I’ve seen enough fictional outbreak scenarios in movies and television that I can practically see the PowerPoint slides depicting casualty projections with the Quad circled as ground zero. A big ol’ bull’s-eye on a Google map.

Still I’m a sucker for tradition and would mourn this one if it passed prematurely. Finding your way through life requires striking the right balance between repeating what came before and forging new experiences, hopefully building and improving as you go. A good tradition connects you with a community larger than yourself—past, present, and future—and there’s validation in that.

Last year’s FMOTQ bore little resemblance to the very first one. A community as vibrant as Stanford’s knows how to adapt to changing times. H1N1 is a mere irritation to be worked around. I’m not even sure how FMOTQ could be canceled; the moon and the Quad are still there and barring a Tiananmen-type crackdown students are still free to use them as they see fit. So the students may retract at first, but they’ll push back, pulling, twisting, and tweaking the event until it suits them once again. There will be some missteps: this past Sunday under the full moon some undergrads opted to interpret the event as Full Moons on the Quad, to the em-bare-assment of all. Maybe it only takes a few sensible precautions. But they’ll get there. In its next incarnation it may not look like the FMOTQ I knew, but it will be the same in name, and that’s good enough for me.

[Source: The Stanford Daily]

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