It’s a tale as old as time. Well, not really. Newman Day, and its origin and significance to the students of Bates College, is widely known by both members of the Bates community and the world-wide web (the Wikipedia page makes it official).
For those underclassmen who may not know, the legend goes that three Bates students started a tradition of consuming 24 beers in 24 hours in a room in Herrick House. The challenge stuck and enticed other students to give it a go.
Allegedly, the tradition was inspired by a quote from film star Paul Newman, who supposedly said: “Twenty-four beers in a case, 24 hours in a day. Coincidence? I think not.”
Others say Newman Day originated from a scene in Cool Hand Luke in which the actor eats 50 eggs in one hour (I’ll take a hard pass on that one).
We like tradition here at Bates, whether it’s something as simple as a first-year aiding a senior when binding their thesis, pepper flips or puddle jump. Traditions are important and somewhat necessary in fostering unity and community. But I dare to ask the question, can aspects of the tradition change in an effort to be a little more sensitive?
Take the fact Newman himself wrote a letter to Bates College President Thomas Reynolds in 1987 asking for the college to change the name of the tradition or change the activity itself. Now, the college does not endorse Newman Day nor is it an official college event, just more of a student-created rite of passage that has lasted through the years.
There are small, nuanced behaviors and activities some students practice, like not taking a tray in Commons, for example. It’s not written anywhere in the College Handbook that the trays are there for visitors only; someone, somewhere along the line decided trays in Commons are unnecessary.
Similarly with Newman Day, nowhere is it written that on a particular day you must drink 24 beers in 24 hours. And even if the tradition was inspired by Paul Newman, he did not one day wake up and say, “Bates students, you must honor my film career by binge drinking.”
Also, why Paul Newman? He isn’t an alumnus, he didn’t film any movies on campus, so what is our tie to the actor?
Maybe, just maybe, we could consider renaming the tradition. You can still drink 24 beers if that is your choice, but it could just be called, I don’t know, Friday. TGIF.
On a more serious note, while interviews with Newman provide evidence that he enjoyed consistent consumption of beer, he also founded the Scott Newman Center for substance abuse (named after Newman’s son, who struggled with and eventually passed away from drug and alcohol abuse).While the center has since closed, asking to not be associated with an event that involves an excessive consumption of alcohol makes perfect sense coming from a man who lost his son to substance abuse. Maybe in his younger days, Newman would’ve supported or even participated in his namesake day, but like traditions, we get older, wiser and a little more considerate.
We love our traditions and don’t like when they are taken away or altered. It’s natural to cherish something and want it to always be the same. It’s comforting to know some things stay the same. But in the same breath, we get older and society progresses and we need to keep up with the changing times, a time where one must think seriously about certain practices and behaviors that are no longer fitting or appropriate.
With Winter Carnival upon us, enjoy all the activities sanctioned and unsanctioned by the college. And maybe, as you are jumping into the puddle or dancing to Blink-182, think about how changing a name doesn’t necessarily change the tradition itself—coincidence? I think not.