USC Fountain Run

I was slightly disappointed to hear professor Thompson being today’s lecture with a discussion of this USC tradition, as I was hoping to surprise him with a little bit of USC folklore. I think my insight into the tradition is still valuable regardless, as there are permutations from what we discussed in class.

First, I would like to share my first experience with the fountain run. Two years ago, as I was finishing up my Freshman year at USC, I was sitting in Leavey studying for an exam. As evening fell, I had the sole goal of finishing my work so I could party later that evening. 7, 8, and 9 P.M. passed slowly, then before I knew it, I heard cheering out on the McCarthy quad side of the building. I blew it off initially, but after a few minutes of its persistence had to join the several other kids standing at the window observing. When I got to the window, I was met with quite the sight to behold. Literally hundreds of students, all wearing bating suits, bikinis, and water-wings etc. were splashing around in the shallow pool out front.

I later learned that every year, the seniors all get intoxicated and run through all of USC’s many fountains the last Thursday of classes. What’s interesting is that every group of friends has its own sub-tradition of this larger USC tradition. For example, my friend’s fraternity typically puts a foam pit in their courtyard that night, and throws all of their seniors in it during their party. Another friend of mine’s sorority has all of the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors push the senior girls in shopping carts from fountain to fountain. In this sense, the tradition has evolved in complexity from its inception as a direct result of more and more people becoming involved.

Professor Thompson mentioned the final portion of this analysis in class today. To elaborate, this college tradition in fact serves as a valuable case study on the clash between institutions and folklore. When USC knows that its seniors will be running through fountains regardless of the school’s disapproval, the question appears: do we fight them, or do we join them? USC has elected the more diplomatic option of the two, and has taken great strides to make this treasured night as safe as possible. The school has drained, cleaned, and refilled all of the major fountains on campus, making tonight safer for everyone. This is a tactic that might be applied to other similar dynamics. Take the debate over legalization of narcotics in America, for example. Instead of trying to seek out all users and dealers of drugs in the country, might it be more effective to simply subsidize their safe production and distribution? This is an argument for a different time, but we can at least use this instance of folklore’s clash with an institution as a reference point for ways to constructively approach similar problems.