Garrett Venable ’17

Tradition by definition is handed down from generation to generation; it is also something that is under constant attack. Woodberry Forest School has many traditions, forged from over a hundred and twenty five years of molding boys into men. Today, many believe that tradition is being thrown out at Woodberry and others believe that things must change. These differing opinions have called the traditions of Woodberry into question. I believe a deeper understanding of what tradition really represents and what it means for Woodberry. Tradition changes like the flow of a river yet has a constant spirit; it is like a cave that shelters and tells a story. Its impact on those who are affected by it is like a stone, and the actions that are associated with tradition are only shadows its true spirit.

October 31, 2015.  Military Appreciation Day at Woodberry Forest School.

The view of The Residence from across The Lawn

The spirit of tradition is like a river.  The flow is determined by the geography of its surroundings, which causes a river to have many bends and twists. Over time, as the geography of the area surrounding the river changes, it creates new bends and twists, but it is still the same river. Much like the beginning of a river, tradition is created and determined by its surroundings, and over time, as the surroundings change, so does the tradition. However, the spirit of the tradition stays the same. This is why the traditions of Woodberry from one hundred years ago and the traditions of Woodberry now seem somehow different and yet still the same. The traditions of Woodberry were created to best fit the time of their creation, and as the times changed the traditions changed.  But the spirit of the Woodberry traditions are still as they always were. This consistency explains why a student now can think of a student from a hundred years ago and still feel something in common with the boy.

Tradition shelters and tells a story. Familiar traditions teach us the world, and this teaching makes us feel safe. This is how an ancient human would have felt about his cave. His cave was a refuge against the wild. In turn, we use the certainty of tradition as refuge against the uncertainties of life; we need traditions much like a caveman needs his cave. Tradition makes Woodberry a sanctuary in ever-changing times. Tradition also tells a story about the lives of those who participated in it, much like the cave drawings of Chauvet Cave. The drawings of Chauvet Cave resemble the lives of those who lived thousands of years ago, and the traditions of today tell our ancestors about who we were. Similar to how we can look back to the traditions of Woodberry long ago and learn what it was like to be a Woodberry boy then, students a hundred years from now will look back on the traditions of today in the same way.

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The traditional busts supporting the wooden beams inside the, then Reynolds Family, now Terry Dining Hall 

Tradition’s personal effect is like stone, one can never change what is inside. All traditions, especially Woodberry’s, stay and change all those who embrace them. The lasting effect of tradition is the reward of tradition, it becomes a part of you and cannot be taken away.  Like a stone; you can throw it, you can trample on it, you can break it open, but you can never reach inside to change its affect on those who lived it.  For example, in the poem “Stone” by Charles Simic, the speaker describes the inside of a stone, “[it] must be cold and quiet- Even though a cow steps on it full weight,- Even though a child throws it in a river;” except the lasting effect of tradition is the stone. Therefore even if a tradition changes or outright dies, the actual reward of it can never be taken from those who embraced it. No matter how Woodberry changes in the future, its tradition can never be changed in the hearts of those who lived it.  

Tradition is like a shadow, meaning that the acts of tradition are the shadows of the tradition’s spirit. It’s similar to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, but instead of the viewers trying to understand objects from their shadows, the observers of tradition are trying to interpret the spirit of the tradition based on the acts of the tradition, a pep-rally at Woodberry is an example. The spirit of tradition can be misinterpreted by some, for this reason.

This is why traditions change over time, because they are changed so the people of the time that are not familiar with the traditions will be more likely to interpret the correct spirit of the traditions; if they do not change with the times, then traditions will die. Likewise, though, if traditions are changed too much then they will not reflect the true spirit behind the traditions, and the spirit will be forgotten, making the traditions nothing more than hollow acts. So a balance between change and the old must be reached so that the shadows that are the acts of a tradition do not undermined the traditions spirit.


The Woodberry family singing Amici following the conclusion of The Game against Episcopal

Tradition is very important to Woodberry, and the rest of mankind. Tradition is complex to understand, and seems to be under constant attack by the ever changing world. Therefore, it is important to have a good understanding of what tradition really represents for Woodberry. Though tradition at Woodberry may be ever-changing, like the flow of a river, its spirit is the same. Tradition has served as a cave to shelter Woodberry boys from the uncertain world and will be able to tell a story about the Woodberry boy for generations to come. The effect of tradition on a Woodberry man can be changed no more than the inside of a stone.

Categories: Opinion

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