USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘service’
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Walter Payton High School

Context:

My informant is a 19 year old student from the University of Southern California.This conversation took place at a cafe one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, where our mutual friends sat and the table and listened to this conversation happen, as well. In this account, she explains a tradition from her high school. This is a transcription of our conversation, where she is identified as L and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

L: Ok, so, in my high school, umm, it was named “Walter Payton” after a Chicago Bears football player who was very philanthropic and like dedicated to empowering the community. Um, his number was 34, so on March 4th (which is like, 3/4 ) we had a day called “Sweetness Day” where every advisory would go out and do a service project in the community and Walter Payton died as he was finishing building our school, um, cause he wanted it to be accessible to all the youth of Chicago. And so his brother comes in his honor, er, his son I mean, would come and hype us up and get ready for the day of service and stuff, so like we stayed with the same service group and it was just so cool to like check back in with them and like a lot of advisory ended up volunteering for them externally too. It was so cute, it was such a fun day and the whole school just loves “Sweetness Day.”

K: How did you learn this tradition?

L: Um, I learned it pretty much like as… cause in Chicago you have to apply to high schools, you don’t…

K: Wait what.

L: Yeah, public high schools. You have to apply to public high schools, which is insane. So basically like you have to go to open houses and like info sessions with the high schools because, um, there’s 10 selective enrollment ones that are just basically magnets. You take an entrance exam to get in and whatever, but like at the open houses and stuff, everyone couldn’t stop talking like how much “Sweetness Day” meant to them and how it’s such a big part of like our school. Being as unspirited as we are, like no one came to sports games, but like everyone got hyped for the “Sweetness Day” pep rally, so it was really cool.

K: Why do you love “Sweetness Day”?

L: I love it because it’s how I got close to a lot of people I probably wouldn’t have gotten close to, so since it’s with your advisory, like I had… like what our school prides itself in being incredibly diverse, so I had a lot of students in my advisory who had like very different backgrounds than me or like very different day-to-day lives. Like some of them took the redline for an hour and a half to school everyday, whereas I walked like for 20 minutes a day. So like, I loved that I was able to do something really empowering and cool while also like doing it with a network of like really driven people, too.

 

Thoughts:

I thought that this tradition was very endearing, and also epitomized one of the main purposes of folklore, which is to strengthen the culture of a group. Though this type of folklore, where a school gathers and dedicates a day to do philanthropy as a community, is very special to Walter Payton High School, I also know that it is a common folklore among many schools across the nation (each one with their own oikotype). Personally, my school also engaged in a day dedicated to volunteering, but we called it “Lodge Day.” This is because our school mascot was the beaver (and so we called ourselves “Bryant Beavers”), and for this one day a year we would come together as a “lodge” and volunteer to improve our schools. This meant doing activities such as reorganizing the library, planting new plants in the garden, scraping gum off of the sidewalks, spreading and evening bark chips and the playground, and so on and so forth. Overall, this is a common type of folklore that each school can adjust to fit their own school culture, as folklore should.

Adulthood
Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A Ritual Of Coffee Service Employees

The informant in question is a barista with one of the most popular and well established coffee companies in Los Angeles. The ritual in question is, in the informants experience, company wide. Every employee does it.

“Working at a coffee shop with constant, bustling lines and loud talk Is really tiring. Getting really good coffee to thousands of people in one day is a difficult task. Our service line is like a manufacturing line, and we have to also retain a certain level of quality. We start at six in the morning and some of us work far, far into the day. The work is good though.

Mid shift, when the shift is halfway over, we all take a shot of water from our espresso cups. It’s something we all do, right in the middle of the day. It’s like taking a real shot, you know? To celebrate, to get you through it. It’s like ‘the day is halfway over’ and it’s a nice tradition. It helps us keep working and get over the halfway bump”

How long have you been doing it?

“Oh, ever since I’ve been at the company. Always. It’s something we came up with as a team to motivate ourselves. At first we thought, maybe a shot of beer. But there’s lots of us that shouldn’t and can’t do that so we take a shot of water instead. It’s great”

Analysis: This is a cool little ritual that must be helpful for gathering some energy. These baristas are standing all day, constantly pulling shots and servicing people. At first, the informant couldn’t think of any pieces of folklore to share with me. But he got quite excited in sharing this little ritual of theirs.

general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Alpha Phi Omega Initiation

“I don’t know how long it’s been in practice, but like every time like we wear pins, like a pledge pin on the right side [of your chest] when you’re pledging and then you put it on the left when you have been initiated. So, ‘cause the left side is your heart, so like the service pin is more on your heart like, you’re like in. Um, and then during the initiation ceremony we like light candles for each, kind of characteristic we talk about, um, and then we also, when people are ushered in to the initiation ceremony they’re, they have to close their eyes and not look and they get in a line with hand on shoulder, like in lines of maybe ten people and then someone leads them who’s an active member already to lead them to the place of the initiation. And then once they’re all there, um, they can open their eyes and then they, everybody says their name in order and they say the oath repeating after the person leading the ceremony. Um, let’s see. That happens once when you find out you’re gonna become a pledge and that happens another time when you’re initiated to become an active member. The pledging period is, like, a semester long, basically . . . It just seems like it’s always been done that way and so, when I experienced it as a pledge, it’s how I also experienced it as an active, like it, it feels like it’s always been that way.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies biology and is currently applying to medical schools. This interview took place in the new Annenberg building when I was having a conversation with another friend about superstition and the informant started to volunteer information about the rituals that have taken place in her life. She is a part of the campus service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, or APO and has been for all four years she has been at USC. APO is co-ed and is somewhat culturally removed from USC’s other Greek life. It states its principle values are “leadership, friendship, and service” and the members of this service fraternity are supposed to embody those values in their everyday lives.

 

This ceremony is clearly a liminal moment that has been ritualized. It is a way for new members to join the fraternity on a consistent basis while knowing that they have the approval of the active members. Essentially, it is a way of very clearly establishing who is a part of the frat, who is not, and who is in the process of joining. I thought it was interesting that the informant interpreted the movement of the service pin from the right side to the left side as having to do with the left side being where your heart is. Part of me believes this interpretation is influenced by her studying biology and the human anatomy currently being the most important area of study in her life, while the other part thinks this is probably the original symbolic meaning of the movement. Having the pin on the right side of your chest makes it merely a form of decoration, at most an acknowledgment that you are interested in being a part of this organization. However, as soon as you move it to the left side of your chest, it is a statement that the organization is a big part of your life as it is next to one of your most vital organs.

 

The repetition of the initiation ceremony is important, as it gives the active members and pledges a period to adjust to the change in the community. It is noteworthy that the active members light a candle for each “characteristic” that an APO member should embody, i.e. leadership, friendship, and service, as this means three candles are lit and three is an important symbolic number in American culture. I think the reasoning behind making the pledges close their eyes when they are led to the ceremony has more to do with symbolism than it does with keeping the location of the ceremony a secret. The pledges are going to find out where the ceremony is as soon as they open their eyes, so there is really no reason to think that keeping the location a secret is an important part of the ritual. Rather, I think it has to do with the fact that when the pledges close their eyes they are in a location that represents their lives before APO, and when they open them they are somewhere that represents the their new lives with this fraternity. This action also increases the suspense and sacredness of this ritual. That an active member leads the lines of pledges into the ceremony shows the approval of the existing members of APO and is an important step in making this outgroup a part of the in-group.

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