School Spirit, Redefined
by Patrick Burrows ’10
Palatalization, diglossia, analogical leveling, Abbé Grégoire, Reichenau glosses: That is what was spinning around my head as I walked into Dey Hall on the Thursday before Spring Break my sophomore year. My midterm for my class on the History of the French Language loomed large. The task was simple: In ninety minutes, regurgitate as much of the fifteen centuries of sociolinguistic history of the French language as I could. Simple enough.
Spring Break, however, has the odd effect of sapping most of campus of their motivation, in anticipation for a week full of doing nothing – or, at least, nothing academic. After my midterm, I was headed back to my dorm to pack for a weekend conference for Orientation Leaders from across the Southeast; we gathered to learn, but more importantly, to scream cheers as loudly as possible for as long as possible. Imagine getting the twenty most enthusiastic, school-spirited people you know, multiplying them by thirty, and putting them in close quarters for a weekend.
Even more distracting, the sun was out, the temperature was floating in the mid-60s, and – as is true every year on the first beautiful day of Spring – the student body had invaded every single inch of available space on Polk Place.
No one wanted to be in that classroom. But the professor walked in, distributed the exam, and walked out as we all began scribbling away furiously in our blue books. “On my honor…”
About forty-five minutes in, the professor walks back into the room, markedly more solemn than his usual jovial self. Head down, focus. Does not concern you. “The Serments de Strasbourg was the first document written…” He writes something on the blackboard – presumably reminding us of the time left – and walks back out of the room. I look up and read:
EVE CARSON MEMORIAL. 4 PM IN POLK PLACE.
Head down, confused. Whatever, does not matter, back to scribbling. “The Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts was an edict issued by François I that…” Suddenly, a girl stands up and runs out of the room in tears. I look over at the guy sitting next to me who shrugs, just as confused as I was. Look back at the board:
It’s funny: you really never understand a metaphor until the moment when you actually, viscerally feel the metaphor. At that moment, I understood what it meant to be hit by a ton of bricks.
No, that has to be a mistake. The term “memorial” is used for the dead, not the living. I saw Eve on Monday when I was giving a campus tour. She waved at me as she did every Monday morning in front of Bingham Hall, giving me the perfect segue into my spiel about student involvement.
No, she cannot be gone. Tears begin to well up, but I force them back. “Félibrige was a movement led by Frédéric Mistral that…”
I turn in my blue book, sprint out of the room, and immediately pick up my cell phone. Four missed calls, two voicemails, one text message:
“Patrick, oh my God, Eve Carson is dead.”
4 pm. Standing next to complete strangers. Chancellor Moeser says some apropos words about the Carolina Way (words now engraved on my heart) and what makes this University great, but more importantly to Eve, good. We sing “Hark the Sound,” for the only time ever in my memory omitting the Tag. The arms around shoulders become arms around necks as the Carolina family held one another. Complete strangers embracing because that is the only thing we know to do. Words do not come. Finding familiar faces is unimportant when you see your own grief reflected in everyone else’s.
We boarded the bus headed to the Orientation conference that evening. No one really knew what to say; there really was not much that could be said. We decided to make Carolina blue ribbons to wear, as the point of focus of our outward mourning. But we would continue through the conference as best as possible, scream as loud as possible, and represent Carolina as we knew we had to. Plus, the dook game was in two days and we obviously had to get belligerent about that.
So, we cheered, we sang, we danced, we celebrated as dook lost for the third year in a row at Cameron, and we did our best to continue as if our spirits were not actually depressed and our minds elsewhere.
During the awards presentation on the last day of the conference in the song, dance, skit, T-shirt, seminar, case study, and the highly coveted spirit competitions, we sat anxiously awaiting our opportunity to get back on the bus, go home, and do our delayed mourning in private. We did not win in any of our categories. “Oh well,” we said. “It was not all that important anyway. What matters is that we had fun, despite everything.”
Then we heard it: “In the medium delegation category, first place in spirit goes to…the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.” Jaws drop. Spirit? Really? Carolina had never won the spirit award, the only award voted on by the other schools’ delegations.
We huddled around the trophy before getting on the bus, sobbing with a multitude of pent up emotions. “On three…one…two…three…FOR EVE!”
Carolina Orientation wins spirit for the first time ever: that is how Eve would have wanted it.
Patrick Burrows ’10, a linguistics and French double major with a minor in religious studies, is originally from Candler. He plans to teach French before returning to graduate school in religion.