When I first came to Ridgeview eight years ago we held an annual event called the Senior Roast. At the time, I recall being surprised by how aggressive both the faculty and the students were with one another. In many cases they had spent years around one another, come to know their idiosyncrasies, pet peeves, and other personal details. They, in other words, knew one another. Many may say that all of this was a breech in decorum, but “ridicule is a wolf that only kills those are afraid of it,” as was noted by the Comtesse Diane, and the students could roast the faculty as well as they did because they knew them. As an old proverb also makes clear, “no man is a hero to his valet.” The faculty could rest assured that they had become real to their students rather than cardboard models of heavily abstracted ideals. No one was going to mistake Ridgeview for the Dead Poets Society or The Emperors Club because here the teachers were living, breathing individuals full of personal quirks. In short, we had traded the thin veneer of pretense for the lived reality of authenticity.
The students eventually carried the Senior Roast too far, though it was as likely cancelled out of a regard for hurt feelings as it was for its inappropriate material. “Laugh at your friends, and if your friends are sore,” wrote Alexander Pope, “so much the better, you may laugh some more.” Friends may say enough in jest to prick but not to wound; but if a prick is enough to wound, the fault is not our friend’s. In any event, the Roast was replaced by the Senior Banquet, which is a pleasant evening, but also something of a one-sided lovefest. The Mr. RCS event, which had begun as an eccentric mix of talent show and all-male pageant, grew to demonstrate increasingly less talent from year to year and won most of its acclaim in proportion to its juvenility and shock value. As it reached its apogee of puerility, it too had to be canceled, and so the Ridgeview Folly was born.
In an academic setting, it would be easy to underestimate the importance of levity in the classroom. Of course, there are such classrooms in schools across the country, and the students are left mostly deadened to the material. Those who miss the point of laughter largely miss the point of life. Also, the end of the year cannot but be stressful. Throughout the year, teachers have had an abundance of opportunities to get their digs in at the expense of students. To quote Will Rogers: “Everything is funny as long as it’s happening to somebody else.” Hopefully, these are not mean-spirited jokes, but the friendly ribbing that happens as teachers come to know their students. The problem is, the decorum requisite for educational work cannot take place if this ribbing is constantly going both ways. To show that those who can dish it out can take it required a new event. The Folly was an opportunity for those with thick enough skin to get back a little of what they had dished out.
The Folly aspires to become a tradition, but like all traditions have, it must begin somewhere. Founders get the lion’s share of the credit for a reason – they are the heavy lifters. As I think it is fair to say about virtually all endeavors, there are three types of people. There are leaders, who take the circumstances as they are and attempt to fashion them into the best can be made. There are the followers, who eventually lend their support to those who have established themselves as leaders. Finally, there are the stragglers. The stragglers do not merely trail behind, but critique, snipe, and backbite hoping to undo whatever progress is made. To all the leaders, Luke Stephens chief among them, thank you. To all of those who attended last night’s performance, thank you for your support of a new tradition. To all of those involved, thank you for helping us to blow off a bit of steam as we approach the end of the year.