Joe College, Where Art Thou?

A quest by Peter L. Hopkins

In a sterling case of wanting most what you don’t have, Harvard students have developed a major preoccupation with the inadequacies of our campus social life. We lament that weekends at Harvard begin only on Fridays and last only until the early hours of Sunday morning. When there are actually parties, we complain that there are not enough or that they are not well attended—or that they are too well attended and insufficiently ventilated.

Driving this relentless self-criticism is a vague and somewhat variable notion of the so-called mythical “other schools” against which we measure the merits of our own social life. The “other schools” are essentially a composite of everything which we believe Harvard lacks or, quite simply, the ideal party school.

At “other schools,” there are parties every night, which rage tirelessly into the wee hours of the morning. These fêtes disband only at daybreak and only so their patrons might go forth to mate vigorously with one another as well as to attend to various incidental needs, such as nourishment, sleep and personal hygiene, that will make possible a return to partying the very next evening to begin the whole process anew.

In the interest of uncovering just how unlike “other schools” Harvard truly is, two friends and I ventured southward over intersession to Florida State University (FSU), a legendary name in the pantheon of great party schools. It was my hope that a thorough examination of the FSU body social might be just the selfless act of public service that could reveal by comparison the major sources of Harvard’s social failings and potentially help remedy them once and for all. Even if I couldn’t single-handedly cure Harvard’s party ills through my pilgrimage to FSU, I felt relatively certain that I could get myself pretty damn drunk.

As an elite party school, FSU’s credentials are unquestioned. FSU has all the of the essential elements of a great party school: it is home to one of the nation’s illustrious college football teams, the Seminoles, has a massive undergraduate population of almost 25,000 (55% is female) and resides in Tallahassee, Florida, a town that has long looked forgivingly upon underage drinking and other college revelry. In turn, FSU has perennially appeared on list after list that trumpet the nation’s biggest party schools. Both the Princeton Review and Rolling Stone magazine have at different times bestowed upon FSU the title of the nation’s most social institution for higher learning.

My own first impression of FSU social life, however, was how strangely similar it was to Harvard social life. One of the most popular campus bars at FSU, the Palace Saloon (2 parts saloon, no part palace), is a college bar much like any other. Aside from its southern quaintness (the walls were adorned with the hoods of NASCARs and there was a perpetual line to have a turn at the video game “Deer Hunter”), the Palace Saloon could easily have been Harvard’s own Red Line or Daedalus on a busy weekend night. Around the crowded bar, alcohol was served in abundance, men talked to women, women talked to men and, at least by appearances, a good time was had by all, especially by the two bloodlusting huntresses who simply refused to relinquish control of the bright orange shotguns tethered to the Deer Hunter game.

In fact, there was nothing at all unusual about the Palace Saloon, except that it was filled to capacity at almost 2 a.m. on a Monday night (Tuesday morning), its busiest night of the week. It’s hard to imagine anything filled to capacity at 2 a.m. on a Monday in Cambridge, except for the library, but that closes at 1 a.m.

It is not necessarily the nature of the events or their venues that distinguish the parties of FSU from those of Harvard but rather their frequency. The social calendar in Tallahassee works on a six-night schedule as opposed to a one or two or zero night rotation in Cambridge.

In a defiant act of social scheduling, FSU has anointed Tuesday as the peak of its weekly festivities. Tuesday’s very approach in the weekly calendar is heralded like the coming of the messiah. Quite literally, in fact. I watched on as one FSU undergrad proclaimed, “Jesus Christ! Tomorrow’s Tuesday!” before slumping drunkenly into the outstretched arms of two friends who were ready to help escort him home after he had finished his evening of pre-partying. And, why shouldn’t Tuesdays be so keenly anticipated? What better way to deliver one’s self from the bondage of two successive days of class than to get absolutely shit-faced so you can’t remember that you still have three more to go?

As evidence that partying and piety are not mutually exclusive, Sunday is the one-day of the week when FSU actually rests. Except, of course, on “holidays” such as Super Bowl Sunday, which occasions partying as if it were Tuesday.

My meager Harvard training quickly proved insufficient to handle the rigors of FSU social life. By day seven of my research excursion to FSU, even the milk in my morning corn flakes started to reek of the taste of Natty Light. My inability to withstand seven days of the lifestyle that many FSU students have spent four (or more) college years perfecting proves that nature may be a limiting factor in one’s quest to become the perfect partier. Yet, even if the average Harvard man or woman is not meant to party like they mean it every night, I did note certain aspects of FSU campus life that seemed to inspire in me a will to party on even through the fog of my relentless inebriation.

Like FSU, Harvard needs a large public space to foster the sort of daytime socializing necessary to lay the foundations for raucous nighttime partying. In Tallahassee, this function is served by the local grocery store, Publix, which was recently voted the best place in America to find a date by Playboy Magazine. Publix, or “Club Publix” as it is affectionately known by FSU students, is indeed one part grocery store and one part meat market, where tanned and toned co-eds parade the aisles while bands of slobbering fraternity boys follow in tow waiting for just the right moment to offer their services in lifting up a particularly cumbersome bottle of Diet Coke or fat-free salad dressing. Where better to stoke the flame of romance first kindled in the frozen food aisle than a party that same evening?

One Publix shopper who identified herself as an FSU undergrad said that it was the sales and not the studs that made her a loyal patron. In almost the same breath, however, she confided that a number of her sorority sisters, a cousin (or two) and her own sister had far fewer reservations about stopping by the Publix in search of a loaf of bread and/or a new boyfriend. “Oh yeah, my friends really, really like to shop at Publix.”

Harvard also needs to discover the joys of T-ball and other sorority sports more generally. I had the distinct pleasure of attending a sorority T-ball tournament during my stay in Tallahassee. While the proceeds of the event were given to charity, I assure you that the true beneficiaries were the spectators. The fire of competition that can be achieved only when two sororities square head-to-head on the (T-ball) field of battle seemed to speak to every red-blooded fraternity brother in attendance. The image of glory that is the leaping and the bounding of young female athletes as they decide and decide again which of the three bases they want to run to first knows no equal in all of sport. From what I could tell of FSU, T-ball really has nothing to do with directly promoting parties on campus so much as fostering the general air of contentment and goodwill in which parties thrive.

In addition, bonfires seem to be critical to successful parties. Almost every party I attended had an outdoor bonfire to complement the indoor revelry and, thus, I cannot help but conclude that the bonfire must possess some yet-unstudied party-making property. Something about large fires seemed to enchant the FSU students and make them want to drink more such that several among them felt compelled to jump over or through (as it were) the pyre’s leaping flames. What fun!

Of course, there is still the lingering issue of classes, a problem faced by FSU and Harvard students alike. As one FSU partygoer informed me quite authoritatively, “Classes just get in the way of partying.” Given their tendency to stand in the way of a good time, one wonders why colleges even have classes at all. Yet, rather than skipping class entirely, she highly recommended simply taking a lighter course load. She told me of her recent enrollment in “Writing about Buffy the Vampire Slayer” which she was slotted into because of the popularity of “Writing about the Simpsons.”

So, in conclusion, I have surmised a basic equation that condenses my findings into a single, elegant theorem, which may very well one day help make Harvard the FSU of the North.

(Supermarkets) + (T-Ball) + (Fire, both literally and figuratively) – (Classes) + BEER = FUN

Now, go and out have some fun while I spend the rest of the semester sobering up.

Peter L. Hopkins ’04 is a Government concentrator in Quincy House. He and traveling companions John M. Barkett ’04 and John L. Durant ’05 are now Publix preferred shoppers.

Tags