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Zackie, “The Drug,” and The Evils of Modern Society: A UC Living History

I’m new to the Ursinus College community. Part of my role is to advise the Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow (STAT) student group. Their tagline: Building Bears For Life. I adored this concept from the first review of my position’s job description. A group dedicated to training its peers on what it means to be engaged, active alumni? History, traditions, philanthropy… Sign. Me. Up.

Like most graduates of small, liberal arts schools, I’m extremely loyal to my alma mater. Beginning a love affair with any other place seemed treasonous at best. However,  I knew I had to acquaint myself with UC’s history to do any justice to my role as advisor to the STAT group.

This summer, I read the Yost Book.

You know… the Yost Book. Ursinus College: A History of its First Hundred Years by Calvin D. Yost, published in 1985. It contains 199 pages of financial records, influential alumni, the construction and funding of new buildings, and the rise and fall of various student organizations throughout history, but it only brushed the surface of student life. Any mentions of student life and culture popped up like tiny firecrackers exploding off the page. In the 1880s, students stole hens from nearby farms to cook in the residence halls. Throughout the first decade of the 1900s, sophomores kidnapped the freshman class president, keeping him from the Freshman Banquet. In the 1910s, students were known to unscrew seats in the chapel and rearrange books in the library. In 1949, there was an actual bear cub on campus (“Zackie”) being housed near the campus garden. 

I got on the phone and talked to alumni.

These facts are historical goldmines. However, I sensed this wasn’t enough.

The mission and objectives of STAT are bigger than merely learning about UC pop culture trivia.  STAT leaders must be dedicated to educating their peers about fostering institutional pride, teaching others about the Annual Fund and how alumni contributions impact their campus experience in meaningful ways. They sponsor a “Bear Hugs” Day dedicated to thanking donors, Quizzo-style UC trivia nights, and they participate on the Senior Class Gift Committee. However, in the age of Yik Yak, Snapchat, and Twitter, is it even possible to facilitate feelings of connectedness for students if it doesn’t involve their smart phones?

I had to believe the answer was yes, so I dug deeper. I got on the phone with UC alumni and asked them what they thought. From as far back as the class of 1949 to as recently as the class of 2013, the message I received was clear. Relationships and undergraduate opportunities led to future life-decisions, careers, and, in some cases, marriages. Relationships with professors and other students, opportunities to study abroad or write for The Ursinus Weekly (now The Grizzly), singing together in Song Fest (now Air Band), informal hangouts at a local drugstore known as “The Drug,” or at “The Rock Pile” (where the Kaleidoscope now sits), or lower Wismer, dancing together at junior and senior proms, the Lorelie, the Ball at the Bellevue, or Grizzly Gala… Ursinus College students have strong, silky threads which have tied together their traditions from 1869 to present day. The traditions of today may be different in name, but they’re the same in spirit as they were at that very first Commencement in 1872. Members of the junior class presented their research for the year (one essay entitled: “The Evils of Modern Society”). How different is that from our annual Celebration of Student Achievement

Harnessing that Spirit

Being a Bear For Life is bigger than the mere telling of traditions. It’s about a living history that current students are creating now for a retelling in the future. If STAT leaders can harness this spirit and make their peers aware of its potential, it will translate into time, dollars, and continued commitment to future generations of UC students. It won’t happen overnight, but STAT’s aim is to believe in and sustain a robust campus at Ursinus College, just like generations of UC alumni, family members, and friends have been doing for years.   

Our current students accepted the challenge. They’re Bears For Life. Are you?