Saturday, October 4, 2008

Scavenger Hunt

I just got back from the annual freshman Scavenger Hunt. Part tour, part bonding event, and part hazing tradition, it was more fun than even I imagined.

Time-staggered by dorm to avoid gridlock, the 1600 took Caltrain into downtown San Francisco. We were preassigned to groups of about six freshman each, and there were far more groups than upperclass supervisors. They left us each with a sheet of tasks and the simple advice not to get arrested.

Some sample tasks:
  • Perform music theatre in front of the Opera House
  • Propose to a stranger. Bonus points for proposing to a stranger of the same sex (SF style).
  • Find a Cal student and convince him/her that you go to Cal and want to take a picture with him. Use your imagination.
  • Shake a stranger's hand through the fly of your pants.
There were about a hundred tasks in this vein.

We named our group the Golden Bears, referencing the Cal mascot as a way of explaining to the public who we were and why we were so blatantly disturbing the peace. We stood out.

Immature? Definitely.

Still, there is a serious side to Scavenger Hunt, and I think it's a great tradition.
It introduced all the new students to the diversity and irreverence of San Francisco, and gave them opportunity to participate. For some of the international students and those from rural America, I'm guessing that today was a major eye-opener.

Today's fun was also a refreshing break from Stanford's sometimes maddeningly bureaucratic administration. An event this big has got to be planned by the Admins with the uppercase A. It's nice to know that they not only tolerate, but encourage freedom of choice, even in cases like this where our choices are probably embarassing or uncomfortable for them.

Finally, Scavenger Hunt pushed people past their comfort zone and made everyone think about the things we consider right and wrong, acceptable and taboo. Do our unwritten rules make sense? What happens when they're broken? What happens when people disagree on where to draw the line?

And the kicker? LoveFest is going on right now in SF. There are whole city blocks where naked people compete with assless chaps for attention and the pot smoke hangs thicker than the fog. The frosh kids who went that route stood out, too -- for conforming too much to society's norms.

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