Dripping with tradition
Stones, as a rule, are not living. The rock on Farm Lane is different. It obviously doesn’t have a heartbeat, but it does grow and change to reflect the student body it represents.
Thin, spray-paint layers splash upon one another each night at the rock, changing its purpose and message every day as vigils are held to keep a group’s message on display. It’s quirky traditions such as this that make our MSU experience unique — the rock acts as the canvas connecting the past and the future MSU community.
When 20 oxen pulled the rock from what is now the Beal Botanical Garden to a spot near the MSU Museum, I’m sure Michigan Agricultural College’s class of 1873 had no idea how it would be used in 2011.
There are not many sacred things for a community of young adults. Tradition, however, can cross 138 years between 1873 and 2011 because of the people who carry it through the years. Painting the Rock, raucous Saturday tailgating, the thundering Izzone and delicious MSU Dairy Store sesquicentennial swirl ice cream all are uniquely essential to the Spartan experience.
Tradition has managed to transcend the static nature of the rock. When it was given as a class gift, the rock bore one simple engraving “Class ‘73.” For decades it was known as “Engagement Rock,” and many young people had romantic rendezvous there until the 1970s when it become protest central — and the painting began.
It was moved near the public safety office to stop graffiti-ers, and after less than one day, it was decided the rock could become a place of unbridled free speech and reside in its current locale on Farm Lane. Now it is transformed on a nearly daily basis, and the community has adopted it as a place for messages encompassing everything from birthday wishes to rush announcements.
The class of 1873 knew well the importance and burden of legacy and tradition when it decided to give the rock to MSU all those years ago. A speech at the dedication ceremony sums it up thusly: “Nothing is forgotten.”
Although painting the rock only dates to the 1970s, it has become a hallmark of the MSU community. Spanish freshman Kyande Sanders said painting the rock for her sorority’s pledge week is “just one of those traditions.”
Many people’s experience with the boulder begins on a campus tour when the guide stops to give a spiel about the rock’s history. This almost always comes in the form of a call to action to join student groups so “maybe one day you can paint the rock, too.” I’d argue you need not paint the rock yourself to be a part of the tradition. Simply glimpsing the daily message for five seconds while rushing to class maintains the ritual.
It is true a Registered Student Organization must make a reservation to hold an event in the space surrounding the rock, but the only requirement to paint the rock is the paint itself.
And that’s the beauty of the rock.
No matter how trivial or groundbreaking the message, it gets equal space, time and prominence as the rest. Something as forceful as “Rapists beware” demands the same attention by passersby as a simple “I love you.”
The Rock, like any other medium of free speech, must be cared for. It is a living billboard, and without people to maintain it, the rock is merely a rock.
Ryan Sean Raul Ortiz, a microbiology freshman, said the rock’s biggest value is that it stands apart from the “camouflage” of fliers and posters we’re bombarded with each day. The rock gives importance to causes or groups that might otherwise go unnoticed.
For instance, recently there was a reminder about the number of days Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured in 2006 by Hamas in Israel, has been held hostage. How many MSU students, faculty and staff would investigate or even think of that in passing on their own?
Most importantly, the rock is fulfilling the purpose laid out by the class of 1873. It is a lasting tribute to their experience on this campus and a gift to those who have come to this place after them.
The gifts of free speech and tradition both are invaluable to a college campus where young people need to be learning, changing and growing daily.
Alanna Thiede, opinion writer