Tradition Freely Chosen: Independents in Chapel Sing
After I had decided to come to Wabash, my next decision was whether to join a fraternity. I had gathered the impression that belonging to a fraternity was necessary to get the full Wabash experience, that otherwise one would somehow not be all the way in. In addition, I saw that
The Phoenix, which I really liked, commonly ran articles about how great the fraternity system was. I knew that fraternity life was cheaper than independent life after freshman year, and had higher average GPAs. But most importantly, I knew that if you are part of a fraternity, you will never walk alone. You will always be surrounded and supported by friends and brothers, and if that has its own dangers, at least you will be saved from yourself.
I consider that no small matter. When we leave home to go to college, we are dropped into an environment very different from anything we’ve known before. There are many perplexing and intimidating situations to deal with. For someone like me who is not naturally gregarious, the most natural way to deal with this is to withdraw into a sort of shell, doing only what is necessary to get through and avoiding unnecessary interaction with others. But yielding to that temptation is obviously fatal. I am a far worse companion for myself than most of the people I should be associating with.
There is one of the disadvantages of independent life—it makes this mistake easier to make, because more effort is needed to avoid it. Until a few years ago, however, there was an-other disadvantage, which is even more serious: independents were unable to participate in Chapel Sing. Now, the other homecoming activities are all fun (or exciting or disturbing accord-ing to the individual) but Chapel Sing is the important one. Singing the Wabash College fight song (we Wabash men should be proud of having the longest fight song in the nation) for forty-five minutes straight while Sphinx Club members distract us and try to make us mess up requires concentration and endurance. It is deeply symbolic. After we leave college, for the rest of our lives, we will find that the concepts at the heart of Wabash College, scientiae et virtuti, knowledge and virtue, learning and manliness, science and faith, are scorned and mocked by the world and the devil. They will be doing their utmost to make us mess them up, and then to stand alone before God in the celestial chapel, get a red W on our soul like a bolt of bloody lightning, and go to Hell. To resist them will be incredibly difficult, but it will be the most important—ultimately the only important—task of our lives. It too will require tremendous concentration and endur-ance. That is what Chapel Sing is about, and why it is so important.
It is easy to see why it was mandatory for all students from its inception. No other ritual could so perfectly inculcate what a Wabash education is for. Of course all the freshmen need it. However, after it ceased to be mandatory for all students, the independent freshmen stopped doing it. For the fraternity brothers who continued with it, it was an excellent way to strengthen bonds of brotherly love, but from this the independents were excluded. From this, probably, the double stereotype of independents arose—that they were loners, and that they had no real love for the College (or if they had, without participation in Chapel Sing it must remain an unconsummated marriage).
That was the state of affairs until a few years ago. Fortunately, things changed in 2005, thanks to the efforts of sophomore Josh Bellis ’08. Bellis had been a de-pledge from Phi Kappa Psi the year before, and, though he had chosen independent life, he was unhappy with the situation the independents were in. So in 2005, he led a small group of other sophomore de-pledges door-to-door across campus, forming a group of freshmen who wanted to participate in Chapel Sing and the other homecoming activities. This energetic action made Wabash history. For generations of independents yet unmatriculated, the face of Wabash life gained a whole new aspect. It was now possible for them also to experience the spiritual adrenaline rush of this sacred Wa-bash ritual.
Thus, for the two disadvantages for independents which I mentioned above—serious matters both—arose a double salvation. No longer must their love for Wabash remain unencouraged and unfulfilled; no longer did they lack a barrier between them and the black pit of loneliness.
I hasten to add that the solution they have is not the same as the fraternity one. It is even more meaningful, because it is freely chosen, which is not usually the case for fraternity pledges. Having participated in Chapel Sing as an independent, I can testify to the double aspect of its benefits. First of all, it proves that our love for the College is sincere, and is not produced by brainwashing but by a loving intellectual movement of the will. Furthermore, it means that my classmates with whom I did the various homecoming activities are not people who have been thrown together with me essentially by chance. They are friends on a much deeper level, because they share with me a great love: for critical thinking and humane living first of all, but even more for the “classic halls” in which we have the opportunity to develop these qualities for a few short years.