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Ambushes and serenades: birthdays at the residential colleges

By Nicole Lhuillier     10/29/19 9:58pm

You probably didn’t expect your birthdays in college to be commemorated by a ring on a gong or an involuntary full-body soaking. It’s a far cry from the typical fare. At Rice, the birthday experience gets an upgrade, thanks to the traditions of the residential colleges.

At the very least, Orientation Week groups might gather to celebrate a member’s birthday, and the monthly birthday posters in most colleges’ commons make sure no one is forgotten. But in the Rice spirit, colleges go beyond — sometimes with traditions that would seem strange anywhere outside of the hedges. While a few traditions are shared across campus, others stand out as trademark features of their respective colleges.

Birthday greetings

Baker, Will Rice, Hanszen, Lovett and Martel Colleges keep it simple with their birthday posters up on the walls of their commons. But students are able to inject a little flair into these signs.

“If you're turning 21, then we put a little martini glass next to [the name and date],” Indya Porter, a Baker sophomore, said.

Each month, Hanszen’s spirit committee coordinates the theme for the giant poster, which hangs on a large post in the commons, according to Makayla Franco, a Hanszen sophomore and spirit committee head. This October, the colors are orange and black with Halloween embellishments.

“O-Week groups will sing ‘Happy Birthday’ in the commons and you’re like, ‘Oh, whose birthday is it?’ and you go look at the banner and then you see. And then you can say their name when they sing,” Franco said.

While it isn’t a hard and fast rule, the typical routine at these colleges consists of a shoutout followed by a birthday serenade.

Martel sophomore and historian Kianna Broadman said this is the standard at her college.

“Sometimes the friends of the birthday person will stand on a chair or table in the commons and shout, ‘Hey Martel!’ and then everyone says, ‘Hey what?’ They'll say, ‘It's this person's birthday,’ and then the whole commons sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to them,’” Broadman said.

This doesn’t occur for every birthday, though, because some people may not want the attention, Lovett sophomore Matan Lieber-Kotz said.

“Not everyone wants it. I’d say like 90% [of the time, it] happens. There’s definitely been very loud times,” Lieber-Kotz said.

Birthday noise

Baker previously had an additional birthday tradition, but it is rarely practiced at present, according to Baker sophomore Rapha Onyeka.

“There is an older tradition of when it's your birthday they'll have everyone in commons yell or scream at the [top] of their lungs for their birthday,” Onyeka said. “But it's not as common right now.”

Murts up the ante of the proclamation in the commons: the celebrant’s friends announce the birthday with a strike on a gong emblazoned with the McMurtry College crest.

“I'd rather not get dunked, so it's a good compromise to just ring the gong,” Rebecca Liu, a McMurtry senior, said. 

However, the tradition isn’t very consistent, according to Liu. 

“Not very many people do it … even though it's something we talk about being a tradition,” Liu said.

Birthday party

At Sid Richardson College, the birthday gathering in the commons is expanded into a monthly event: a dessert feast for the month’s celebrants.

“We have a cake and we have ice cream to commemorate all the birthdays,” Sid Rich freshman Jaime Fuentes said.

Birthday soaking

On their birthdays, Duncaroos find themselves in the DuncTank, a shallow pool beside the Duncan College commons where they are “dunc’ed,”according to the college’s website.

Duncan sophomore John Fu was honest when he described the DuncTank. 

“The water's kinda filthy,” he said. 

Nonetheless, he said the tradition sets Duncan apart. 

“I kinda like the DuncTank because it differentiates us from McMurtry,” Fu said.

Neighbors Brown and Jones Colleges also treat their birthday celebrants to a dip in the water: Brownies and Jonesians toss them into the Fairy Fountain between their colleges’ buildings. At Jones, the friends or O-Week groups announce birthdays at lunch in the commons before they seize the celebrant. This practice ensures “good luck and success over the next year,” according to Brown’s website.

But not everyone desires the plunge, so celebrants may need to be chased or ambushed, said Brown sophomore Daniel Wang.

“Usually most of the time they'll struggle because they don’t want to be thrown into the fountain so it's a fun time as well,” Wang said. “Afterwards I would say they come and ... chase us when they're soaking wet and they all give us hugs which is really nice. It's not even just the friends that get involved, but everyone in the whole college gets involved.”

The experience is so important that concessions are made for students with birthdays during vacation. 

“Traditionally if we don't reach your birthday, like if it's a summer birthday or a winter birthday, we'll do [the tradition on] your half birthday — at six months [after your real birthday],” Sai Lammata, a senior at Jones, said.

Birthday tribal chant

What better way to celebrate a Wiessman’s birthday than Wiess College’s hallmark ritual? Willing celebrants become the “person of interest” in the Ubangee — “an expression of love,” according to Wiess’s 2019 O-Week book. At the call of “brace,” the celebrant runs and Wiessmen go after them. Grunting and jumping around, the Wiessmen link arms in a circle around the individual, who is “protected” by one person hunched over them. They finish off with the triple Wiess cheer.

The participants might enjoy this rambunctious activity even more than the person of interest. 

“I think it's more fun as a person who's doing it. If you’re just laying on the ground, you’re just like, ‘Aaaahhhhhh …’” Daniel Davis, a Wiess junior, said.

“I think it's fun getting Ubangeed because you're on the ground and someone's on top of you and you can look up and all you can see is the other Wiessmen in a circle,” Beck Burgelin, a Wiess sophomore, said. “They’re all going, ‘Hahahahaha,’ and then they do the chant. It's a good experience.”

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