Julie and I spent the weekend in St. Louis visiting our alma mater, Washington University. The last time I visited was in 1995 at a five year class reunion, but Julie and I decided it was time to return and join a special celebration. I was a member of Thurtene, the junior honorary, a group of thirteen students chartered each year with putting on the Thurtene Carnival. This is presumably the oldest and largest student-run carnival in the United States. Members are selected early in their junior year and spend the next 4-6 months doing the prep work for the carnival. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my college years.
The campus has changed significantly for the better since my time there, with the most dramatic changes being the residential area, aka the "South 40". What used to be a collection of boring 60s and 70s-style cement buildings has turned into a terraced landscape of classic brick buildings and winding pathways. Gone are the ugly skyscrapers (and firetraps) and one-by-one they are taking down the older dormitories and replacing them with buildings much more in step with the architecture of the campus. Some things never change though, making our visit an exciting blend of revisiting old familiar spaces and discovering new aspects of this beautiful university. Thankfully, student groups still paint the underpass with event advertisements - losing that would have been a hard pill to swallow.
Our reason for coming this weekend went beyond just attending the carnival - the faculty advisor for Thurtene, Coach Jim Burmeister, is stepping down from his role after serving in that capacity for 35 years. I swear he hasn't aged a day since serving as our advisor in 1989, and members from his 1st years back in the 70s affirmed that their view was consistent with mine.
We had a spectacular turnout from our year, with seven members making the trip from all corners of the US (Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Oregon, and St. Louis). There's something special about a group charged with a single monumental task each year (putting on a carnival to raise funds for a children's charity) that maintains a level of continuity that far surpasses most institutions we encounter in our lives. While the names change every year (as does the makeup of the organization - it went from all men to co-ed in 1992), the traditions stay the same largely due to the adept guidance of an individual like Coach.
Thanks Coach for your loyalty and dedication to Thurtene these past 35 years. Thanks to my fellow Thurtene 1989 for creating and sharing one of my most memorable college experiences. Finally, thanks to those current and future members of Thurtene that will carry the tradition forward.