Light Up the Lake

Ohio State is steeped with tradition. The Long Walk. Light up the Lake. Rubbing Thompson’s head for midterm luck. When I was a University Ambassador, I proudly shared them with the prospective students and their families. Some traditions go back decades; others, like singing Carmen OHIO in Thompson before games, have started while I’ve been a student. Some traditions, however, are dangerous, and so it’s up to us to decide how we want our years as a Buckeye to be defined.

The Mirror Lake Jump tradition started years ago with the Ghost Band. Before the game with That State up North, members of the marching band would travel from dorm to dorm, playing our songs, picking up students along the way until the impromptu parade ended at Mirror Lake, the reason that Ohio State was established where it was. One night, someone jumped in, and the tradition began. Even when the Ghost Band left, the jump remained.

As a first-year, I remember contemplating jumping. Everyone was doing it; it seemed part of what made us Buckeyes. It was how we showed support for our team without being on the field. On the cons side, I couldn’t swim and it was freezing and dirty and everyone would be crazy and I might get trampled.

But even with all of those detractors, I still thought about it. I thought about it because tradition is such a large part of being at Ohio State and because traditions themselves are powerful. When I light my candle at Light Up the Lake, or rub Thompson’s head as I go past, I’m a part of something that’s lived on through the years, that connects me to generations of students just like me. Students who worried about their exams. Students who spent hours talking in the common room and ate Buckeye Donuts. Students talked about our hopes and dreams and plans.

I didn’t end up jumping that year. The next year, I thought about it once again, but then my best friend was assigned to work the event as part of his job during campus security. What his night would be like loomed in my mind, and the minds of my friends. It would be full of trips escorting students to the emergency room because of shock and hypothermia, full of rowdy and drunk students attacking him as he tried to keep them from jumping the fence, full of danger and uncertainty. We stayed in Morrill Tower until 3am waiting for him to come home. He came back, his face full of mace, but he was okay.

Traditions go on because they connect us. They are alive. But, when they endanger our friends’ lives, it may be time to let them go. This year, a third-year, Austin Singletary, died during the jump. He was active in the community, giving back through Buckeye Civic Engagement Connection. He was a nutrition major. He was my age.

I love our traditions. As my little brother decides to join the Buckeye family, I am so proud that my school has a rich spirited history to pass on to him. But, some things, like us, eventually have to leave the school. We can make another tradition. We do it every year.

On tours, I would stop by Mirror Lake. I would tell the families of our history here and of my favorite tradition, Light up the Lake. How we light candles and sing our alma mater. How there’s a light for every undergrad at the school and how it feels to sing the final OH-IO with your friend and see every light light up. They remind me that I am a Buckeye, just like the student who stood here last year and the year before. This is the power of tradition. And this is the kind of tradition that I want to pass on.

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