Campus Traditions - Old and New

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CMC students fill up buckets and trashcans with water during a cross-campus water fight.

“CMC vs. Harvey Mudd: The Epic Water Battle”

Water fighting was a way of life at CMC, but there had never been war with Mudd in the previous years. One sunny afternoon my senior year, however, it seemed too good an adventure to miss! A classmate offered his Corvair to get us up to Mudd (and as a getaway car). It wasn’t hard to recruit a dozen or so willing participants, and off we went. Being Sunday, all was quiet. But not for long! We yelled, “Come out, you Harvey Mudd wimps!” The Mudders swarmed out, armed to the teeth with buckets and balloons and outnumbering us 10 to 1. “Charge!,” I shouted, and with a cheer, we went right at them, hurling our balloons in defiance of their numbers. To our joy, they dispersed. They came back. We charged again, and again they dispersed. Then, we were out of ammunition. Triumph became confusion and confusion became panic. We retreated to the car with the Mudders in gleeful pursuit. We clambered into or on top of the car. The Corvair slowly proceeded like a duck in a shooting gallery. The driver lost his nerve and accelerated. Several CMCers fell off the slippery Corvair, picking themselves up and running to escape the deluge of water balloons.  

We returned to campus in ignominious defeat. It wasn’t over. Buckets and balloons were gathered, and we marched to avenge our earlier setback. History repeated itself. Though the Mudders initially retreated at our second onslaught, we quickly ran out of ammo. We gathered on the street, considering what to do. Unfortunately, my faulty generalship prevailed. “We’ll try to bluff them…Charge!” Up the slope we went, empty-handed! The Mudders weren’t fooled by the ruse and showered us with balloons. In wild disarray, we retreated with the enemy in pursuit. Humiliated yet again, we streamed back to CMC in wild flight.  

By now it was the dinner hour, and we burst into Collins. It took only seconds for our tale to electrify the Claremonters there. A collective urge to uphold CMC’s honor emerged; just about the entire student body assembled to march on Mudd. Over 500 CMCers advanced to the battle line. It seemed as if all of Mudd was waiting for us. It was a classic confrontation of two armies. The battle pitched and yawned! Soon, I was again out of ammo. The only solution was to go all the way back to CMC to replenish. By the time I returned to the battle with a wastebasket full of water, both sides were simply glowering at each other. I had the only water available to either side! To the surprise of everyone, I boldly stepped through the CMC ranks and advanced directly toward the Mudders. A hush fell. My arms swept up in an arc, I doused my targets, and I ran like hell as the CMC line burst into a triumphal cheer. It was the final act of a truly epic battle. 

- Bob Walker ’64

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An entering CMC freshman gets his head shaved as a rite of passage. An early campus ritual, the haircuts were phased out in the 1960s.

“Freshman Indoctrination”

Times have changed and with them, traditions and events of the past have disappeared. Freshman Indoctrination is one such tradition. Incoming freshmen were “welcomed” to the campus on the Friday night of their arrival by what appeared to be screaming hordes of unkempt, filthy, and, it seems, relatively organized members of the sophomore class. The freshman, who scant hours before, had never met, were no match for this mob. Yelling, horns, and hand-cranked sirens all punctured the falling darkness of the campus. Herded in to line ups outside the dorms, all of the freshmen were treated to a new buzz cut hairstyle; alone in our minds without the emotional support of any friend or acquaintance, each freshman had little choice at first but to follow the orders and dictates of his tormentors. Anyone who failed to follow instructions suffered the ignominy of being singled out as the cause of his fellow class members suffering what was termed “collective punishment.” One such event was sufficient to end, at the beginning, any non-conforming behavior. But this was not an unplanned confrontation. Hovering in the background were various faculty members–the most memorable being Dean Stuart Briggs.  

Of course, as freshman, with no knowledge of any of those faculty members, and with attention being demanded solely by sophomores, it is likely that in the first few days, none of the freshman were even aware of their existence. This activity continued for about two weeks or until the leaders of the freshman class became known by their actions. Truly leaders, they were not elected, not self-elected, but were recognized by their peers as the individuals to follow. The “indoctrination” continued until, at least at some unidentified and indefinable point in time, the freshman class coalesced from a group of individuals into a defined group with leaders. Friendships formed, relationships started, trust emerged, and, when critical mass was achieved, the freshman class revolted and, threw off their “oppressors,” and said “no more.” The seminal event was the kidnapping of the sophomore class president and his “handling” by the freshman–which included in one case–perhaps the most extreme, being bundled onto an airplane and sent to New York without a return ticket. And with that, the evert was over–until the following year when these same freshmen, now sophomores, inflicted the same indoctrination onto the next group of freshmen, true tradition.  

Today, this would be called–and is outlawed as–hazing. It was probably a holdover introduced in part by the returning WWII vets who were there at the beginning. It continued through at least 1961. When did it end? No idea, but it did. Did it serve a purpose? Yes, it did. In a period of two weeks or less, everyone in the freshman class knew all the other members of the class, leaders were identified as a result of this “trial by fire,” and most of them continued on as the leaders of the class for the balance of our four years. An undefined group became an organization.  

Could this be done any other way? Probably. Could it be done as quickly? Unknown. Is anything similar done today to coalesce the freshman class into an organized group? Unknown. Does it happen as fast, as thoroughly, and are any memories of it retained for over half a century? Doubtful.

- Bill Dawson ‘64

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Students gather together during a dance at CMC.

“Starlight Ball”

It was the night before Starlight Ball, the most glamourous and important event of Claremont Men’s College’s spring social calendar. My classmates were checking on clean shirts and black ties, ordering corsages for their dates. As my friends were all getting ready, I was stuck in Honnold Library studying for a three-hour science exam the next day. I could not have gone anyway because I didn’t have a date–my girlfriend was 3,000 miles away at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Or so I thought.  

As I turned a page in my physical science textbook, there was a tap on my shoulder. “Can you tell me what time it is?” a feminine voice asked. I looked around and didn’t believe what I saw. After I rubbed my eyes and she was still there, all I could say was, “Joanna Warner, you’re in New London, Connecticut!” How was she in Honnold Library, Claremont from the other side of the continent? I later found out that my roommate–with the help of 27 other classmates–chipped in the money to help finance her jet flight from New York. The scheme started way back in March, when my roommate at Appleby Hall, Dick Smith ‘64, got weary of listening to my sighs about the “girl back home.” He secretly drafted a letter to her, got 27 other pals to sign it, and invited her to come to California for the Starlight Ball on May 12, which was to be held at El Mirador, Palm Springs. Joanna, after getting permission from her parents and her college, accepted the offer and the plan went forward, with everyone at CMC (except me!) in on the secret.  

As the time of the Ball grew near, the conspirators began to run into difficulties. Since I wasn’t going to the affair, I didn’t arrange my schedule accordingly. I had the important three-hour physical science exam Saturday afternoon, the day of the dance. I also signed up to usher at 11 o’clock services Sunday morning at The College Church. Joanna’s plane was to arrive at Los Angeles International Airport at 8:25 p.m., getting her into Claremont by car at 10:02 p.m. My friends weren’t sure it I would still be awake when she arrived, or if I would have hit the sack to rest up for my exam. So, to ensure that I would still be available Friday night to greet my date, one of my classmates bet me $5 that I would not stay up till midnight studying in the library. It seemed like an easy way to make five bucks, so the bet was on! My conspirator friends took care of the other difficulties, too. They convinced my professor to reschedule the exam and found a substitute usher for Sunday.  

Dick was to meet Joanna at the airport, but since neither he nor anyone else at the college had ever seen her, it was arranged for her to arrive with a rose between her teeth–which she did! Incidentally, she left for home the next week, with a palm frond from Palm Springs and a bag of California oranges. We both had the time of our lives, and I can’t thank Dick and my friends enough for the best Starlight Ball ever! Moral of the story: espirit de corps is high at Claremont Men’s College, where it’s “one for all and all for one”–all 474 students. 

 - Tom Kennedy ’64

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Students play a game of Bridge in a CMC dorm room.

“Bridge Frenzy”

In my senior year, the people in Green Hall started playing a lot of bridge. Often, it was two roommates challenging another pair of roommates, but as we continued to play regularly, we formed regular team pairs. Sometimes we played in our rooms, and other times we played in the dorm lounge. It seemed like you could you always find a game going on somewhere. There were always a lot of simultaneous games on the weekends. As it so often happens when people compete, someone says that they are better than someone else, and arguments ensue.  

I was a math major and loved programming, so I offered a computer program to tabulate the bridge scores. As a computer lab assistant of three years, I had become enamored with working on an old dilapidated IBM 1620 computer. The IBM took punched cards and printed out results on what looked like typewriter output. These “Donny Points” were established (since I was the author and had to do all the data input, I chose to name them after myself). When reports of the scores of each game and the players came in, I entered the data onto punched cards and a ran a report. I would do this once a week and post the results, ordered by average score.  

To celebrate the end of my collegiate football career–my last football game ever!–we held a big Bridge Bash in the dorm. We celebrated by setting up a keg in my room and bridge tables in each of the four rooms on the west end of the second floor of Green Hall. Players competed in the elimination tournament, while everyone else kibitzed. At some point the keg went dry, and by 4 a.m. there were only about six or so of us still awake. We decided to carry a table down onto Parents Field and take some candles and play bridge until the sun came up. I remember only that it was hard to see your cards, but not much else. Finally, the sun rose, we somehow got the table back inside, and we went to bed at last.  

As you might expect, between tabulating scores, hosting bridge parties, and being the second-highest scorer on campus, I thought I was pretty hot stuff. “Big Al” ’69, the top scorer, and I thought we could beat anyone, my folks included. They were retired and played a lot of bridge themselves, but we thought we were better, so I invited them to play us. Despite having the home court advantage, they beat the pants off of us. It was probably the most humiliating thing that ever happened to the two of us. We didn’t win a thing. Thankfully, we never had to play them again. But, as my roommate, “Moley” ’67, reminds me, despite our trials and tribulations in bridge, it was nice just to play out on the balcony in the spring breezes.

- Mike Donovan ’67

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A crane removes tires from the Pomona College flagpole after a homecoming prank.

“Pomona Gets Tire-d”

My freshman year, I joined a group of guys and prepared for the homecoming game by collecting tires for a month. We had decided to stack up tires up on the Pomona field’s flagpole the night before the game. One member in our crew was a mountaineer who knew how to do Prusik knots. He had a whole system that involved a long rope with a Prusik knot on each end. He’d slip the rope above his head, tighten the loop on the bottom, step in and just keep moving it all the way up to the top of the flagpole. There was a hook that he attached to the halyard that helped hoist the tires we’d been amassing. We would throw tires over the fence beyond the grove next to the stadium, hook them up to the halyard, hoist them up as he’d flip them over, and then he’d jiggle his feet so that the tire would come down. We covered the flagpole with tires and topped it off with an indestructible tractor tire. 

The officials tried to saw off the tires before the game, but there was no way a puny saw would get through that tractor tire. They tried using an acetylene torch, but with five minutes left until game time, they finally decided that they needed to bring in a crane to haul off the remaining tires. Somebody ratted us out, and we ended up having to contribute $300 to the cost of the crane, but despite the cost–$300 was a lot of money back then–we considered the prank a rousing success.

- Richard Baumer ’67

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Students sit together during a Wilderness Orientation Adventure trip in 2018.

“The Pismo Beach WOA-Cation”

CMC Wilderness Orientation Adventure (WOA!–now called Welcome Orientation Adventure) leaders oversee trips where groups of incoming freshman bond and learn about life at CMC while going on adventures like canoeing down the Colorado River or backpacking through the Sequoia National Forest.  

My WOA! group took on a similarly intense task–exploring the California oasis of Pismo Beach. As my WOA! group played on the beach and eagerly visited the town of Pismo, we quickly realized there were some important survival skills our members lacked. Namely, several of the women in the group were not comfortable riding a bike. My fellow WOA! leader and I opted to rent electric Segway scooters for the girls. After a fantastic afternoon, one of my dear “WOA! babies” decided to test out her super Segway skills. Speeding the machine faster and faster, she launched herself off the side of the scooter and landed directly on her chin. We spent some time in the ER that day, but my “WOA!bie” returned to the group in the evening in full glory: proudly displaying the four stiches on her chin.  

We would later discover that accidents were not the only reason harm would befall our group. On the last morning, co-leader Alexander Reichert ’11, woke up nice and early to prepare pancakes for everyone. Costco-sized ingredients ensured that we had enough to make breakfast for a medium-sized army. Everyone had their fill, but there was still a considerable amount of food left from our trip. In an effort to try to finish as much as possible, we laid out all of the remaining food. In the middle of our breakfast table sat a gargantuan bottle of maple syrup. Unfortunately, having watched the movie Super Troopers on the bus ride down to Pismo, we still had the shenanigans from the movie fresh in our minds. A scene in the movie shows a maple syrup “chug-off” between the two of the characters…you can see where this is going! One of the girls on the trip challenged Ethan Gilbert ’13 to finish the bottle of maple syrup in a preposterous dare. I watched in shock as he enthusiastically accepted. Cameras were positioned and so it began! Ethan started off going strong but it wasn’t long before the thickness of the syrup began to hamper his efforts. We all watched in horror as the bottle of brown slowly emptied. When he finished, we cheered in stunned, disgusted jubilation at his accomplishment. With a proud yet nauseated look, Ethan ran to the bathroom to purge himself of the sugary sludge. While he faced a rough day riding the roller coaster of the sugar surging through him, Ethan’s triumph provided his “WOA!mates” with quite a tale to share.  

Indeed, whether hiking and canoeing or sunbathing and exploring, WOA! trips always result in stories that bond “WOA!mates” together during their time at CMC and beyond. 

- Rebecca (Arnold) Oney ’10