Seminary Pond jump tradition lives on

Photo+by+Anna+Delph

Photo by Anna Delph

For the last 17 years, students have willingly jumped into the frozen pond next to Calvin Theological Seminary in what is commonly known as the Sem Pond Jump.

The Sem Pond Jump originated in 1997 when the Calvin homecoming committee was looking for a new tradition to excite students and ignite school spirit.

Before the Sem Pond Jump, the most popular student tradition involved a statue of Moses placed randomly around campus and at sporting events. However, students became bored of this tradition; thus, the committee looked for a replacement.

After much thought, Randy Buursma, former homecoming committee member and Calvin professor, created the Cold Knight Club. A student could gain acceptance into the Cold Knight Club only by jumping into the freezing Seminary Pond.

Over time the Cold Knight Club gained popularity and evolved into what is now called the Sem Pond Jump.

“[The Sem Pond Jump] was one of those things that started because something else was fading out and then became a really huge success,” said Aaron Burghgraef, a current senior and Knights4Life student intern.

“We’ve had over 2,000 students participate over the past 17 years,” said Burghgraef. “Last year was our biggest year with just over 600 students.”

As the Sem Pond Jump gains popularity, so do horror stories, success stories and advice from alumni jumpers.

“Last year it was so cold and the ice was so thick that when people jumped, the water spread over the ice and parts of it were breaking off,” said Burghgraef. “So when people jumped, they were splitting their shins open on the edge of the ice and one girl actually dislocated her shoulder.”

In an attempt to reduce injuries, this year the opening on the pond is going to be expanded. In addition to the expanded hole, a protective barrier will be added around the ice so students do not scratch themselves on the sharp edges.

Seasoned jumper and chaplain Pastor Mary has her own advice for jumpers. “Wear shoes. You will have to stand outside for awhile, probably on something snow covered. The more clothes you have on, the easier it will be.”

“It’s a big mistake to wear flip flops,” said Pastor Mary. “Shoes are the best thing because the bottom of the pond is unpredictable.”

“Get there early and stake out your claim near the front of the line,” said senior Carrie Ott, who will be jumping for her golden towel. “Waiting is the worst part. By the time you are done waiting, you’ll want to jump in the water.”

Numerous students decline jumping into the pond due to the freezing temperature but Pastor Mary encourages them to try it. “It is one of those things you will only do in college,” she said. “It is a unique thing to Calvin and you really get to see school spirit.”

“Knowing that Pastor Mary and/or the president are going to jump makes it so much better,” said Ott. “It’s great to know the people who are above us are doing it with us. It creates a nice administrative and student union.”

Students receiving their golden towel are especially excited for this year’s jump. “The golden towel is a real prize,” said Burghgraef, who is also jumping for his golden towel. “People are very excited to receive it.”

“I will probably frame the golden towel,” said Ott. “I don’t want it to just end up hidden somewhere. Maybe I’ll use it as a table runner.”

“It’s impressive to do it four times,” added Pastor Mary. “I have my golden towel currently hanging in my office window. I think it’s something to be celebrated. You’re in an elite group.”

There are even options for students studying abroad. Wherever a student may be living in his or her semester abroad, Calvin makes sure they have an option to jump into some sort of body of water in place of the Sem Pond.

“My sophomore year I was abroad in Spain and so I went into the freezing ocean,” said Burghgraef. “Basically a group of us got together and took a picture of us before and after as proof. It’s a cool opportunity for international studies to continue the tradition and show other people how weird we are here in Michigan.”

Even first-year students are looking forward to one day receiving a golden towel.

“I am nervous about the jump because I am nervous about getting injured,” said first-year student Emma Morren. “But I think I will do it all four years because I really want a golden towel. I am going to be proud of myself and feel accomplished.”

However some are not as excited. First-year student Ashley deRamos said, “I don’t want to jump in the Sem Pond because I think walking to class is cold enough, so the idea of jumping into freezing water is not appealing to me.”

The jump may not be for everyone, but the idea of the beloved golden towel is enough to bring some students to jump every year of their college career.

Traditionally, this event takes place the second weekend in February, but this year, due to dangerously cold weather, campus safety made the call to postpone it. Since it cannot be scheduled during siblings’ weekend, the new date for the jump will be March 27, weather permitting.

“I think it’s an awesome Calvin tradition,” said Burghgraef, “that you can easily become a part of and add your name to the list of people that have jumped over the past 17 years.”