[Editorial] The Last Kiss: Traditions in Danger
by The Milton Measure on Friday, December 7th, 2012
As Milton prepares itself for December break, annual caroling warms the hearts of the boarding community at the start of a frigid New England winter. In weeks of practice, boys dorms hone their best singing talent and soulful acoustic guitar strumming skills, readying themselves to set the hearts of boarder girls aflutter. Traipsing from dorm to dorm, men of Goodwin, Forbes, Wolcott, and Norris add to the seasonal sense of joy just before winter break Along with the musical elements of this tradition, freshman boys customarily kiss the cheeks of senior girls. This moment serves to unite the dorms in cheering on the youngest among them, and as a final welcome for the newest Milton students.
The tradition of the kiss, both a rite of passage and a seasonal hallmark, was recently banned by the administration. At a time of stress for much of the student community, seniors in particular, it is depressing to see the jovial atmosphere surrounding a small event which many students anticipate with glee shrouded by controversy.
An administrator we spoke to expressed concern for the burden of social expectations upon the freshmen — while boys who felt uncomfortable could in theory opt out of the ritual, peer pressure could make such a decision practically impossible. It is true that a majority poll would not always represent the true feelings of all freshmen, as some might fear the scorn of their fellows. This Board agrees that the dorm leadership could do more to make it clear that such traditions are not mandatory by any means — we do not, however, believe that the wholesale elimination of the kiss on the cheek was the right remedy.
For many, the experience of the symbolic kiss does much to break often-sheltered freshmen out of their shells. Potential nerves and awkwardness are a natural consequence of being a 14-year-old boy in a brand new school in a brand new city — and for some, a whole new culture. Far from a sexual gesture, the kiss serves as a sign of affection and welcome for the newest among us at Milton.
Pruning the harmful vestiges of “old boy” prep school culture, like dangerous sports team hazing rituals, was unquestionably needed as institutions like Milton entered the modern era of social consciousness. But social consciousness should not be used to justify the elimination of all traditions, especially when the tradition is on the whole a positive experience for those involved.
Hazing is a real problem, and this Board does not wish to trivialize those who have been hurt or ostracized by inappropriate traditions, or are being hurt currently. “Hazing,” however, should only be applied to traditions that divide the school community, not bring it together. Lumping any tradition that has any hint of being labeled “inappropriate” in with the likes of forced exercise, nudity in freezing temperatures, and other humiliations cheapens the meaning of the word “hazing.”
On the contrary, we believe that the kissing tradition was a force for instilling a sense of inclusion and belonging–especially essential given the feelings of disconnection and loneliness that uprooted new boarders might have.
The simple loss of the kissing tradition is sad, but not in and of itself a cause for alarm. What is more disheartening is the newly narrow interpretation the administration appears to be adopting towards tradition. An administrator stressed that traditions– whether official events like prom or quasi-official happenings like caroling — operate with the school’s sanction, and should thus reflect what is best about Milton Academy.
In essence, we agree. It is on the question of whether a tradition reflects the Milton ethos that we differ. For this Board, caroling, including the kissing tradition, shows Milton’s spirit of inclusiveness, fun, and unity between different dorms and grades. As for inappropriate sexualizing of younger students, a kiss on the cheek is no more intimate than you would be with your great-grandmother. Camaraderie, not sex, is the idea.
It is unfair to the administration to criticize the recent bans as just another example of Puritanical, prudish faculty. The school’s leadership has no malicious intent. But when students feel resentful that a beloved event at the end of a long session of classes has been taken away with little explanation, the action could hardly be called conducive to the building of a strong school community. While the creation of new traditions is always welcome, and the elimination of possibly harmful activity is a crucial duty of the school, we believe that student and faculty leadership should make the preservation of existing traditions a higher priority. Some traditions may need to be modified to ensure that faculty and students can see eye to eye — for example, “Santa Baby.” The unilateral elimination of traditions, however, should be replaced by a more careful process of consideration and consultation. With a few changes, Milton traditions should remain a central element of a healthy school body.
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