This past Friday, I jumped into the freezing, slimy, bacteria-infested waters of the Seminary Pond for the fourth year in a row, earning myself a coveted Golden Towel and, of course, undying glory.
But despite the rapidly growing amount of people who are not only willing but genuinely excited to participate in the Sem Pond Jump, the clear-thinking among you will notice that everything about the experience I just described is utterly unappealing.
So why do so many people at Calvin continue to enjoy this tradition? Why, indeed, did it become a tradition in the first place? Sure, a Michigan winter is long, but there has to be less self-destructive ways of letting off steam.
A large part of the reason I did it for four years has to do with the outdated notions of traditional masculinity which I’ve internalized, where performing feats of physical endurance is a validation of my personal worth. However, not only is this irrational and possibly unhealthy, but it also clearly can’t apply to all of the people who show up every year (since a lot of them are women).
Certainly the event is a community-building activity, which is an undeniable benefit, but surely there are other options for community-building winter events that are less likely to result in hypothermia and colds — I for one would love to partake in a campus-wide snowball fight over Interim.
The pledge every student yells incoherently before jumping mentions something about fallenness and possibly a baptism, but while it’s possible that jumping in filthy water could be some sort of religious metaphor, the same problem applies: surely there’s a way to symbolize human fallenness with slightly less risk of injury.
Perhaps the sheer insanity of the whole thing is the entire point — maybe the Sem Pond Jump is a loving tribute to the power of human ingenuity to act in novel ways even in the face of danger.
Although the last option remains a distinct possibility, I like to think I’m a little less aggressively irrational than that. I’ve embarked on many difficult challenges for no apparent reason before, but while I may not be a particularly bright person, I have gained more than just an appreciation for the power of human stupidity from them.
For instance, after biking 50 miles in a day with my best friend, sleeping on concrete under a gazebo in a rainstorm (we’d forgotten to check the weather) and then biking 50 miles home, I don’t think twice about biking a few miles to my friend’s house — after that experience, how could a few miles of biking sound daunting?
My friend was dumbfounded the first time I wrote a 50,000-word novel in 30 days for the National Novel Writing Month challenge, but two years later, he decided to try it himself. After writing that much that quickly, school papers hold no terror for me.
The real purpose of the Sem Pond Jump is to remind me how much I am truly capable of enduring, and with a smile on my face. Willingly standing in line to plunge into freezing waters is a warmth in my heart when I’m walking home in a blizzard.
The confusingly long and completely inaudible pledge is not truly the message of the Sem Pond Jump.
Instead, I hear: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”