By Lindsay Haislip
May 1 is a well-known day at Washington College that brings students, faculty, alumni, community members, and even the general public, together in celebration of the end of the school year and the start of spring. It all started innocently with the reading of poetry, dancing around the Maypole, and drinking wine, and soon transformed into an opportunity for mass nudity on campus.
This progression began in the spring of 1967, when English professor Bennett Lamond’s freshman English class was reading the poem, “Spring” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and discussing the traditions of May Day. According to a WC video interview with Lamond, the class became caught up in the spirit of the day and decided to hold a celebration of their own, equiped with a Maypole, wine, cookies, strawberries and dancing. A group of young men then moved the Maypole in front of Hodson Hall, removed their clothes, and began to dance around it.
This began the tradition that still defines the celebration of May Day to this day.
One of the most famous May Day incidents involved a student who decided to venture outside campus, naked, and attracted the attention of Chestertown Police. He was arrested on public nudity charges and was taken to the local jail. Students went to the jail in protest, demanding that the police free their fellow student. The story caught the attention of the press, causing the events of May Day to be known far and wide.
Even some Chestertown businesses have been involved as well. In the 70s the liquor store across the street from campus used to offer a free case of beer to the first male and female student that walked into the store naked. Students were crossing Washington Avenue in the nude to obtain their free beer.
Many alumni look back on their experience at WC and have fond memories of May Day and its traditions. Shane Brill, a current staff member at the college and member of the class of 2003, remembers the sense of unity that the events of May Day brought to the community.
“May Day is one of my fondest memories from my time as a student—there was an atmosphere of liberating innocence and playful communion among everyone who participated,” he said. “The only sour aspect was the voyeuristic fascination of the clothed spectators, and the people who drank in more than the natural inebriation the day offered.”
He further explained the importance of May Day to the education he received here as well.
“Experiencing the May Day tradition at Washington College was as important to opening my mind as the best classes that I took. It’s a chance to ignore authority and the suppressive decorum of civilized society, and discover the thrill of simply existing,” Brill said.
While May Day is a great opportunity for students and community members to relax after a long semester and celebrate the arrival of spring, it can also put participants at a great risk, which causes concern for Public Safety officers trying to keep students safe.
“May Day is obviously a very unique event for a college campus,” said Director of Public Safety Jerry Roderick. “It’s one that poses a lot of issues for the Public Safety office, so we go into it with a different perspective than most people.”
PS’s main goal on May Day is to reduce exposure to the community while at the same time keeping students safe. One of the main issues that Public Safety deals with on May Day involves the many undesirable individuals who make their way to campus to watch the festivities, often with cameras and/or mal-intentions.
Roderick said that many students feel as though the campus should be closed on May Day, however WC is an open campus and cannot block out all visitors from the viewing the event. Therefore, PS encourages students to use discretion when making their May Day plans.
“We have to find our way through the day to keep it a safe and comfortable environment for students, while maintaining a good Public Safety presence that doesn’t reflect badly in any way on the campus or the students,” said Roderick. “We have an informal agreement with the student body about the workings of May Day, and it works very well.”
In past years, PS has arrested people on campus that are posing a threat to students, including several know sex offenders who have travelled to campus to view the festivities. In recent years, one of the main problems has been with stolen clothing, including wallets, keys, and other personal items, which Public Safety had to address as well.
As far as what students can do on May Day to make it run smoothly and more easily for Public Safety, Roderick said, “Obviously heavy drinking, intoxication, and engaging in risky behavior isn’t the best formula for a successful night, so we just really remind students to be thoughtful about what activities they’re engaging in.”
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
– Gerard Manley Hopkins
April 29, 2011
Volume LXXXI Issue 24