W is a freshman at USC, and a good friend of mine. He attended a private boarding school in Massachusetts called Deerfield, an academy with centuries of tradition.
W: At Deerfield there was like a cheerleading squad. And it wasn’t cheerleading like what you would think of, it was more like people that would just get everyone amped up. Basically these people’s job, their job was to just show up to the games and just yell. That was all that they did. And then there was Captain Deerfield and Captain Deerfield was the head cheerleader. And this was something that was very much independent from the school. And what would happen was at the end of each year, the entire school would vote for who would be Captain Deerfield. And it was always a senior. And this was before my time, but I remember hearing about somebody that was Captain Deerfield and he got DC’d or something which is a disciplinary committee. So he got in trouble and he was a proctor, which means that he lived with either freshmen or sophomores and he was responsible for them so he lost that position. Like he lost every position that he had. But they couldn’t take away Captain Deerfield because that wasn’t a school thing. So Captain Deerfield would be someone that yells at everyone. I think there was some sort of like, wooden rod or something that was handed down and so they would just pound it on the fucking ground dude. And there was a hat as well. That was handed down and everyone sort of had their own look as Captain Deerfield, everyone that I saw. Some people had a cape. There was one guy that had like, these fucking hideous checkered green pants. Yeah, pretty much anything really. But I think the big things that were always the same were the hat and the wooden rod.
This is a great example of how traditions and ritual can be more powerful than the institutions that govern them. Captain Deerfield, a student-owned role, has no official institutional grounds — instead, it is a role agreed upon by the people who Captain Deerfield leads. Even when the Captain Deerfield from years ago lost everything else he did, no one could strip him of Captain Deerfield because the institution has no power over it. If the people decide to strip him of it, that would work. But as long as the people agree a certain person gets to have a certain role, the institution cannot change that. The agreed-upon items are significant too — the passing of them as semblances of the passing of a torch, that this role stays powerful and continues to be used.