Flunk Day WOO

13 May

Such was my GTalk message this Monday when Hillary messaged me. “Flunk Day?” she asked. And when I explained, she notified me it would make an excellent blog post. So, in the spirit of Flunk Day, I promptly procrastinated for four days.

I’ve previously written about my alma mater, and as the concept of Flunk Day is inextricable from the culture of the college, I feel at liberty to give it a little more background here. Knox is a small liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, a farmland-encrusted midwestern jewel that has a few significant items to its name:

  • It is the birthplace of poet Carl Sandburg and hosts the community college named for him.
  • It has railroads out the wazoo. It is a true fact that if you are talking to a student at Knox on the phone, at some point during the conversation you’ll go “what’s that rumbling in the background?” and they will have no idea what you are talking about because they have learned to tune out the constant noise. On account of the two actual train lines that intersect in town (the Amtrak line from Chicago to points west and the BNSF line), they have a festival in June that includes a huge model railroad shows.
  • Despite being in the middle of what should be gun-toting God-fearing farmer country, it has long been a haven for pencil-necked liberals. In addition to Knox, it also was home to Lombard College for nearly 80 years, a college so liberal it was initially called the Illinois Liberal Institute.
  • It contains a National Historic Landmark: the last remaining site of an 1858 debate between two US senate candidates: Stephen Douglas, and a slender fellow by the name of Abraham Lincoln. The site? Old Main on the Knox College campus.

The Knox calendar is an unusual beast. For starters, they do not do semesters; rather, it is trimesters. Starting after labor day, the first ten-week trimester runs to Thanksgiving, whereupon there is a six-week break until just after New Year’s. Then it’s ten more weeks until mid-March, and a third ten weeks through the end of May. It’s a nice schedule because things change more often, and since you only have three classes per term, you get to focus more on each one. The down side? No holidays. I used to have friends who’d get your Columbus Day or your Martin Luther King Jr. Day off, but I’d be stuck in class regardless. It was a little grind-heavy sometimes, but it was necessary to cram all the classwork into ten weeks. More importantly, though, it was necessary to make Flunk Day the most anticipated day of the year.

According to the wiki that my college apparently now has, Flunk Day is a hundred-year-old tradition, which means it far predates the trimester system that I think may actually have been instituted while my mother was attending in the late sixties. In any case, Flunk Day is a spring term holiday of sorts, and even were it not an amazing event, it’s your one day off as a Knox Student, so you value it very much.

Flunk Day is a closely guarded secret. It works like this: The administration picks a few potential days in the term that would be feasible Flunk Days. It’s not an easy thing to schedule during the busiest term as far as events go, but it’s important that there be several candidates. They’re all closely held secrets, but you can be sure it’s not going to be a Friday, so that’s one fifth of the possibilities cut out right there. The aim is to plant Flunk Day on a sunny, beautiful spring day when no one would want to be in class anyway, and make it a huge bonus.

For starters, classes are canceled. You’re all going to be woken up at 5AM by a bunch of drunken seniors, but you might not want to get out of bed yet, because Flunk Day false alarms are common, and you have to wait until 6:30 for the official email anyway, so go back to bed. Let someone else dig the mud pit in the quads, and hope no one pees in it before you get there. If you’re still in bed at 8, of course, the music’s going to wake you up. It’ll be blasting from each of the frat houses and from the amps on the quad, a shadow of the real band that will be there just before sundown. In between, you’re ten again and it’s the county fair. Maybe there’s a bouncy castle. Maybe there’s a mechanical bull. There might be karaoke, or an obstacle course. There’s probably frisbee in spades, and every meal is a picnic.

Did you check your mail yet, by the way? You’ve got a few special items. First, you’ve got the Flunk Day issue of the student newspaper, always a laugh even if you’re sober. You’re probably not, though; you’ve also got an official Flunk Day plastic cup emblazoned with this year’s theme. No one’s going to ask you what’s in it. Just don’t get alcohol poisoning (have you figured out yet why Flunk Day is never a Friday?). You’ve probably got some other toy or two; maybe a superball or a mini frisbee, just something colorful and cheap to throw around that you might find days later in the grass and smile. None of these things are going to make Flunk Day for you, though. You’re going to make it for yourself.

I’m proud to say I remember every one of my four Flunk Days, even Freshman year when I started the day with three After Eights and a shot of peppermint Schnapps. I took these in the span of ten minutes, and please keep in mind that while my driver’s license says I weigh 105, I have never in my life been that heavy even in winter clothing. My future roommate found me at the bottom of a hill giggling at the sky after breakfast. I assured her I was fine, and indeed I was; far from passing out or getting ill, I recall that Flunk Day as sharply and pleasantly as any of them.

Knox is a very tight-knit community. Even after you’ve graduated, you’re still part of it. And that’s why, not long after the music is blaring and the liquor is flowing forth into the bacchanalian festival of spring, all alumni on the mailing list get notice that real life ought to be postponed for the day.

And so it is that one fine spring day per year, you’ll find me along with thousands like me giving a wistful smile out the window and pondering the feasibility of a mud pit at lunch.


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