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A new tradition

Editorial Board | Friday, February 4, 2011

Snow days in college are a surreal experience. With the apocalyptic tones of meteorologists ringing in their ears, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students started to get a little ridiculous on Tuesday night.

Blizzard conditions? Snow measured in double-digits? The Career Fair has been cancelled? A snow day was imminent, it had to be.

People from warm-weather states started to get a little giddy, as many had never experienced a snow day in their entire academic career. Those experienced in winter weather cancellations fed the anticipation with nostalgia for snow days past.

But our campuses, smack-dab in the middle of lake-effect territory and well-stocked with removal equipment, haven’t closed since 2000. The sheer novelty of it was enough for 18-to-22-year-olds to resort to the tried-and-true snow day voodoo:

Wear your pajamas inside-out, flush an ice cube down the toilet, sleep with a spoon under the pillow. They knew to set their alarms for ungodly hours of the morning just to watch the cancellations list on WNDU — or, in fitting college fashion, obsessively refresh their email and the school homepage until the glorious news arrived: “Because of dangerous weather conditions, classes have been cancelled and the campus will be closed today.”

For the 80 percent of the student body stuck on either campus, Wednesday was truly an escapade through Catholic Disneyland. A few overly-brave people ventured out onto the maybe-frozen Saint Mary’s lake before being shooed off by Notre Dame Security Police. Some headed out the dorm courtyards and quads to build snow forts out of recycling-bin-shaped blocks. Others spent hours playing rugby and football in the powder before heading inside to watch marathons of television shows on DVD.

Despite a snow emergency issued by South Bend mayor Steve Luecke that restricted travel, the valiant staff of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s food services kept the dining halls open for regular hours. You could even go to LaFortune Student Center and get a hot chocolate after sledding down the steps of Bond Hall on your dining hall tray from breakfast.

For everyone stranded off campus, it was a day to wander between apartment complexes on foot (toasty in Uggs and snow boots), inventing ways to include snow in their tailgate games left over from football season. Students even took South Bend’s new snow removal ordinance to heart and braved the cold to shovel their sidewalks.

Wednesday had the best of college — spontaneity, friends, community — without the pesky business of classwork and schedules and predictability. When football gameday has its own website and dorm Mass comes at the same time every week, sometimes the best parts of the tradition-laden “Notre Dame experience” are the unexpected things like snow days.