It is dark and silent in the cloisters, with a heavy atmosphere of anticipation permeating the stones of the building. We are lined up in two even rows, dressed all in black and shuffling our feet between two rows of lanterns. The lanterns have already been lit. My eyes have already grown accustomed to their soft yellow-green glow. They are so close to my feet that I can feel their warmth through my shoes. A handful of whispers flit back and forth along the lines–we have, after all, been on our feet for the past two hours, and the anticipation can hardly remain contained. The audience has also settled into their seats in the wings of the spectacle, with upperclass students, alums, and even parents filling the limited seating.
As I shift from one leg to the other, I pull my coat closer against the wind. I had the same feeling that comes from being backstage before a play–in fact, the entire thing was like putting on the most mystical play in existence. After the whole process of lighting the lanterns–which was surprisingly difficult–ended, I wound up in the front of the line of runners. I tried to stay calm, knowing that the more I focused on my stress, the more likely I would be to fall. We’d practiced earlier that evening and the day before, but we had never done a run in the dark, and certainly not with two lit lanterns in our hands. I found myself conflicted between wanting to be fully immersed in the beauty of the experience and thinking about accidentally bludgeoning an unsuspecting first-year with a fancy flaming flail. Of course, I was reassured by the knowledge that this ceremony had been going beautifully for decades, but none of those other runners had been me.
I began rocking from my heels to my toes trying to avoid letting my legs cramp up or fall asleep. A distant clock chimed eight times, and the tension in the air took on a physical weight as we all knew the ceremony was about to begin. The senior songsmistress burst from the left side of the cloisters, a pale light emanating from her phone as she dashed across the grass to the arch where we were waiting. She lit her lantern and welcomed the audience with a note on staying silent and dark for the duration of the ceremony. Her Anas echoed throughout the cloisters. It was followed by its mirror image from outside the walls–where the first years, transfers, guest students, and new McBrides waited to receive their lanterns. All four songsmistresses appeared to take their places around the edge of the fountain in the center of the cloisters.
The Traditions Mistresses, Celeste and Jasmine, appeared in the doors, their four-colored lanterns gleaming against their black robes. The first years were led in and they began winding their way through the grass to form lines in a dark clump I could barely see. I remembered my Lantern Night, recognizing a few friendly faces with their red lanterns in the hallways, and how beautiful the green and light blue lanterns had looked lining the walls of the cloisters. I felt a pang of sadness as I missed my friends who had graduated in 2015, knowing that their green lanterns were scattered around the world while I helped pass their color on. Celeste and Jasmine appeared in front of us suddenly, hissing “pick them up, pick them up, hurry!” as we broke out of our spells.
I took my spot at the arch, two bright lanterns dangling from my hands. The swingers had begun to sing, and the Pallas reverberated around me. Jasmine and Celeste pressed their hands against our backs as they shoved us forward, whispering,”Ready…set… GO!”
And I took off. I ran straight at the fountain, trying to match the speed of the other runner while balancing the lanterns. A sharp twist to the right, around the fountain, then straight back at the middle of the clump. Run, run, run, don’t move your hands, don’t fall, run, run run! I turned to the right again, running between the wall of Thomas and the backs of the last row of first years. I got to the end and gently placed my lanterns behind the two students closest to the wall, barely pausing to drape their chains before I started jogging back. As I ran through the cloisters in front of the audience, all I could hear was the sound of my hard-soled shoes clacking on the old stones, a percussion backdrop to the quick-paced Pallas. I rejoined the line of runners, feeling blissfully alive, spritely, and magical.
I ran through about four more times, each time turning more sharply as the rows filled with light. After my last run, I rejoined my friends who had also been runners. We all congratulated each other, softly whispering stories of the close calls we’d had–strings of runner cards wrapping around our ankles, candles blowing out as we ran, and other nervewracking moments–before turning to watch as the first year songsmistress bent backwards to pick up her lantern. When she successfully raised hers in the air, the rest of the first years twisted around, reaching for their lanterns without peeking at the light. The only sound was the rustling of almost 400 black robes and the gentle clanking of the chains. As they raised their lanterns from the ground I recalled the nervousness with which my own gloved hands had found their way to my burning dark blue lantern. Suddenly, softly, the songsmistress started to sing.
Sophias philai paromen.
Philokaloumen met eutelaias Philosophoumen.
Aneu malakias, plouto ergou
Kairo crometha athlon ariston,
Kai kindunon tonde. Kallist on nomizomen.
Enthoumometha orthos hosa praxomen orthos.
Kalon to althlon kai elpis megale,
Kalon to athlon kai
Elpis megale, elpis megale, nai megale.
When the first years finished the Sophias, the rest of us joined in to sing them out. The song echoed around the cloisters, its beautiful Greek lyrics reminding me of how excited and happy I had felt on my own lantern night while adding an air of mystery to the event. I was no longer cold, warmed by my relief that I hadn’t fallen and that I remembered the words to the Sophias. But the real joy came from watching as the glowing green lights gently drifted out of the cloisters. I knew exactly how the first years were feeling–excited for their life at Bryn Mawr, buzzing with joy and anticipation–and I felt a new kind of joy having passed on the light of knowledge to them. There’s so much more in store.
Welcome home, baby greens. May your lanterns guide you wherever you choose to go, and may their light remind you that you always have a home at Bryn Mawr.