The crowd gathered slowly. People trickled in from across campus after a long day of classes. If you looked closely, the crowd was a little unusual: hair in blues, pinks, greens, and purples; a smattering of matching shirts; and half-sheets of paper printed with script-like font reminiscent of a curious hymnal excerpt.
At 17:17, the most random time, the clamor of voices and feet filled Lobby 7. It was choreographed chaos. “May the candles on your cake / Burn like cities in your wake / On your birthday / Happy birthday.” The last two lines, included in each verse, were punctuated by stomping. Some lines were shouted, fists raised — “first you pillage, then you burn!”
Last Monday, Random Hall turned 12. The birthday dirge is a time-honored dorm tradition. We sing it at birthday parties for residents. On my floor, a floor of cats and baking and actual Amazon warrior women, this tradition is accompanied by a ceremonial cleaver-ing of cake.
Random was dedicated as a dorm on February 29, 1968. Its birthdate doesn’t exist for three out of every four years, meaning it is often time-locked and consequently hasn’t reached teenagehood. We celebrated its last tweenage year by singing in Lobby 7 and by holding a proper birthday party featuring cake and alumni, who are fondly called “cruft” in east side culture.
By the time the singing was over and we were strolling back toward Random, the sun had fallen behind the new biotech buildings on Mass Ave. My boyfriend pointed out to me the inherent contrast of the birthday dirge. Dirges are typically sung at a funerals, so, at a birthday party, a dirge can only remind you of your own mortality: “Now you’ve aged another year / Now you know that death is near.”
A typical Random Hall resident will only celebrate the dorm’s birthday once in their time here, which means this is my last time celebrating Random’s birthday as an undergrad. I’m only a freshman, and I’m already accumulating these little “lasts” like it’s a hobby.
At the party, cruft from 2010 was discussing her time living on Bonfire, one of Random’s eight floors. It used to be a floor of video games and Internet memes. “Now they’re all a bunch of hipsters,” she said.
What does our time here mean if lasts follow firsts so quickly? If communities shift, if people leave?
Despite all the references to a murderous feudal society and to the inevitability of death, there was an atmosphere of unmistakable joy in Lobby 7 that evening. Random Hall is a very small dorm, housing less than one hundred students, so turnout was incredible. Residents and friends, current students and cruft alike circled the entire space. Random may be a living group, but it’s more than just a group of people that live together.
We have as many layers of culture as we do layers of paint on our walls. We are complex, but we are united across time and space. The investments we make in our community echo in wonderful and sometimes unpredictable ways. Incidents that took place years and years ago, such as the Clam-hole and the most random number, are now canonical stories. These stories influence us: we now question GRT candidates on whether they would help us install a manhole cover in the floor, and we hold all dorm events at 17 minutes after the hour. This is who we were and are and will continue to be.
Here’s to Random’s 12th birthday, and hopefully many more!
Emma Bingham is a member of the Class of 2019.