Many of you know I, along with my sister and many of my friends, attended Berry College in Rome (GA, not Italy, which was oddly one of the first questions I got about my school). What many of you may not know is that Berry, while a lovely school offering an equally
expensive lovely education, is one of the strangest, cultish places I have ever been. I can’t count the number of times I have tried to explain Berry’s eccentricities to my friends and received the whaaaaaaaaa? look in return. And everyone else I know who has attended Berry always has the same problem. So, in honor of my upcoming trip to Berry this weekend, I have taken it upon myself to describe to you one of Berry’s finest and strangest traditions: Mountain Day.
The first thing you need to know about Berry College is that it was founded by the one and only Martha Berry, aka The Chosen One. The priorities of Berry College are as follows: Jesus, Martha, deer, students. The first two are often interchangeable. I don’t want to go so far as to say they worship Martha, but let’s just put it as they really, really, really, really like her. A lot.
More than they like Jesus. And, God bless her, Martha was not the most handsome woman. There are a few portraits of her throughout campus… the best comparison I can make is a stern pterodactyl who is always frowning and judging your NIV Bible. Not exactly an encouragement when you’re trying to take a math final. They like Martha so much they even buried her pony (named Roanie…wait for it… theeeere you go) ON campus in front of the health center… and it has its own tombstone.
So with all this in mind, I can now move on to the finest aspect of The Chosen One’s sanctity – her birthday. Some people love to celebrate Christmas; others really enjoy a good Thanksgiving; still others might prefer the 4th of July. At Berry, all of these things are mere whispers compared to the real holiday: Martha Berry’s birthday. I have no idea when her actual birthday is (sorry, Martha!), but it was some time in the beginning of October. So every year, the first weekend in October is dedicated to remembering Martha with a few normal activities and a few not so normal, call the guys with butterfly nets activities.
The first thing we do is pretty fun, and mostly normal: The Mountain Day Olympics. Each dorm gets to pick a theme, order t-shirts, and commence in human pyramid-making and three-legged races. This part is a ton of fun, and from the outside looks totally normal, until you realize a couple of things. 1) Nearly every student is there. You could attribute this to school spirit, but I think it’s mostly due to the fact that you are Shunned if you even think of someday possibly maybe kind of sort of not wanting to participate in The Chosen One’s celebration. We throw bricks at anyone who tries to leave campus that day. 2) The other weird thing is that the Olympics takes place at 2pm on a Friday, a time when students might, oh, say, be in class. However, on Mountain Day weekend, classes let out early. Professors plan tests around it, study groups make sure they meet early or not at all, and those of us with campus jobs don’t have to report, because everything is closed (except for the cafeteria people… sorry, cafeteria people). It’s like a national holiday, only with deer and a lot of screaming.
The next thing we do can in no way, shape or form be considered normal. I feel like the best way to approach this is to just describe it, and you can reread it as many times as you want until you understand. A lot of this won’t seem normal. Some of you may even want to ask questions. But if there is one thing I learned from Martha, it’s that the answer to your question is way weirder than you anticipated, so it’s best to squelch those. Okay. I think it’s time to describe… the Grand March.
A good Berry-ite would be able to tell you why and how this tradition started. But you’re stuck with me and I don’t know, so maybe try going to the web site if you’re curious. All of the students line up in order of class – seniors first. The senior girls wear blue; the senior guys wear white. The underclassmen girls wear pink, and the underclassmen guys wear blue. You probably want to ask why. Don’t. When the march starts, everyone goes single file (yes, this takes a while… but just wait for it) down a steep incline. It’s not technically a mountain but I guess The Chosen One didn’t want to have to be responsible for the deaths of 2,000 farm kids so she picked a hill instead. At the end of the hill, there is a bucket. When you reach the bucket, you drop in pennies according to how old you are – if you’re 18, you drop in 18, etc. Again, you might find yourself wanting to ask why we do this. Again, don’t. We don’t know. We just found pennies and put them in the bucket and if no one had change we just pretended and opened our empty hand over the bucket when someone else dropped their change in.
When you finally get back up the hill, it gets awkward – you have to hold hands with someone and walk down two by two. Keep in mind that the female to male student ratio was 68% to 32% (and a 12:1 deer to student ratio…). It was every junior and senior girl’s dream to finally be able to hold hands with a boy. The rest of us had to hold hands with a girl. A random stranger with whom you had to walk down the hill, try to make small talk, and silently beg to let your hand go because hers is so sweaty. When you make it up that time, you join with two more people. This continues until all the students are going down 16 across. It’s now been approximately 17 hours since this march started.
On the last leg, everyone raises their arms in the air as they go down. I suppose this is to promote unity, but what it really promotes is the need for strong deodorant. Then we all stop, crowded together like cattle, and someone leads us in the alma mater. I know about 5 words of the alma mater, and I’m not alone – we all wind up humming the tune, which gives the effect of a bunch of whales underwater trying to find their brethren. Then the president speaks. I have been to eight Mountain Days. I have never figured out what the president is saying. I think he is trying to help the whales.
Then… it’s over. You have the rest of the day to enjoy the grounds, buy an I <3 Martha t-shirt, visit Roanie, make a sacrifice on Martha's grave, tour the buildings, whatever. That part is a lot of fun, although I think it's safe to say that almost anything is more fun than hiking back and forth while holding hands with a stranger.
And that night, there is another recent tradition altogether… Marthapalooza. It’s like a really fun, really unsafe state fair, right in the middle of our very own campus. Martha frowned on partying, which makes it extra fun (our definition of partying being that we drink Coke and stay out until MIDNIGHT!!). You can even have your picture taken with the cardboard cutout of Martha. I have three of those. Marthapalooza makes the march well worth it, and you get one of Berry’s finest exports – a t-shirt. My friend Bek and I even tried the ferris wheel. Don’t try the ferris wheel.
Overall, it’s a memorable experience, and while I no longer trek up the hill, it still brings me to joy to see the panicked looks of the freshmen who forgot their pennies.