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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

These news items about residential colleges, collegiate houses, and the renewal of university life are posted for readers of the Collegiate Way website. For more about residential colleges and collegiate universities please visit the main Collegiate Way page.

“Awake ye muses nine, sing me a strain divine”

— Valentine’s Day, February 14th, will be on the mind of many a college student this week. For some it will be a happy occasion. For others—the single ones—it will manifest itself in an epidemic of mopeyness and in firmly and frequently expressed opinions to the effect that “Valentine’s Day sucks.”

You can’t cure all their romantic ills and broken hearts, but you can do much good on this occasion for the members of your college family by marshalling the built-in structures of residential college life. Here’s how.

Go to the nearest discount store and buy several boxes of miniature Valentine cards—the kind that children give out in elementary school. You know the ones: three inches square, with miniature envelopes, and cartoon pictures that say things like “The sun shines because you’re my valentine.” In the U.S. you can get 100 for $10.00. Next, announce that these cards are available in the college office or dining room (the first one is free, extras are five cents), and encourage everyone to stock up and start spreading love around the college.

With the help of your staff and your student council, encourage all students to put decorated envelopes on their doors to receive valentines, and be sure your staff (and maybe even the master) writes one to each and every student saying “The College Loves You!” Very importantly, be sure to put a large and elaborately decorated envelope on the college office door to receive valentines for your college mascot, and announce dramatically that the mascot will also be pleased to receive demonstrations of affection from the entire college community in the form of expensive jewelry, flowers, candy, and sports cars.

Is this silly and childish? Yes. Will it make an enormous difference to the psychological welfare of many of your students? Yes. Will it teach an important lesson? Yes: it will teach that small acts of playful kindness can make a big difference in people’s lives.

Nerdy analytical interlude: Here at the Collegiate Way we don’t merely dispense isolated entertaining ideas—heavens, no!—we show how they fit into grand educational designs. A good college, like a good trout stream, is an integrated ecosystem where every part helps to sustain the life of every other part. For example, the reason the college office should be in a high-traffic area (2.1.6) is precisely so it can support activities of the kind described above. Similarly, a residential college needs an appropriate mascot (3.2.4) not merely as a symbol for sporting events, but so that it can embody, like a Shakespearean fool or a Lakotan heyoka, a wide range of humorous values and anti-values throughout the year, and at the same time serve as an escape valve through which community pressure can be released. The role of the college master (1.2.1) and the college dean (1.2.2) is rarely, in this day and age, to stand in loco parentis in the cramped legalistic sense, but rather, as on Valentine’s Day, to stand in loco parentis in a humane and expansive sense, offering not romance, but caritas. And the reason a residential college should always contain a full cross section of the student population (1.1), especially with respect to age, is so that delightful college traditions will be remembered, talked about, and improved upon from year to year. If you have a Valentine activity this year like the one described above, then next year the new fledglings (3.5.1), who have not yet seen it, will be hearing about it from the returning students months in advance. And finally, the reason a residential college should have a weekly newsletter (3.3.2) is not so that deadlines and rules and regulations can be endlessly repeated—it’s so that you, the college officers, can put an elevating spin on the events taking place around you, like this:

And during Valentine’s week, don’t forget to put your college newsletter to work, so the young folks can see how real romance is done. You’ll have centuries of examples to choose from for the newsletter’s Poem-of-the-Week. I myself might choose good old Ogden Nash, who understood the power of playfulness:

A Lady Who Thinks She is Thirty

Unwillingly Miranda wakes,
Feels the sun with terror,
One unwilling step she takes,
Shuddering to the mirror.

Miranda in Miranda’s sight
Is old and gray and dirty;
Twenty-nine she was last night;
This morning she is thirty.

Shining like the morning star,
Like the twilight shining,
Haunted by a calendar,
Miranda is a-pining.

Silly girl, silver girl,
Draw the mirror toward you;
Time who makes the years to whirl
Adorned as he adored you.

Time is timelessness for you;
Calendars for the human;
What’s a year, or thirty, to
Loveliness made woman?

Oh, Night will not see thirty again,
Yet soft her wing, Miranda;
Pick up your glass and tell me, then—
How old is Spring, Miranda?

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021