Champagne on the Steps: making a comeback?

Colby seems to have a rocky history with its traditions. Though events like Loudness and the Colby Universe pageant have remained staple events on campus, many past traditions  have been forgotten or forcibly ended.

One tradition with  a relatively short but turbulent history is that of Champagne on the Steps. The tradition is fairly self-explanatory: seniors gather on the Miller steps during the last day of classes to drink champagne and celebrate the end of their Colby careers. Though open containers are not allowed on campus and carry hefty fines, during this event the area was traditionally roped off, which allowed seniors the time to celebrate how they wished. According to an Echo article from 2003,   Champagne on the Steps began around 1993,  but was in danger of being shut down in part because of its association with the swim across Johnson Pond, which the administration successfully ended in 2003. That year, Champagne on the Steps survived with only a changed start time from  4 P.M. instead of 12 P.M. in order to prevent the exclusion of seniors with classes or finals they didn’t want to miss. The tradition officially continued until 2008, though not without issue. In 2006 an alumnus sent a letter to the Editor-in-Chief of the  Echo stating his displeasure with the tradition.  He did not support the binge drinking associated with the event and said it was “hardly the kind of example to leave behind to underclassmen or leave a tradition so meaningless in content or intent.”

The tradition came to a halt in 2008 when, as described in a 2015 Echo article, 14 students were hospitalized due to excessive drinking following the event. This led not only to the cancellation of Champagne on the Steps but also to Colby’s hard alcohol ban. Since then, there have been several attempts to revive the tradition—in 2015, a group of graduating seniors gathered on the steps for a short time—but none have been  officially sanctioned by the school.

champy stepsThe issue of Champagne on the Steps brings the permanence of Colby’s traditions into question. Given that both Champagne on the Steps and the Johnson Pond swim started and ended quickly, it seems as if Colby has a problem sustaining  the traditions it starts. Though these were both ended from administrative intervention, there are other practices that have simply fallen out of style, like singing school songs.

Tradition has been a question at Colby for decades, but why?  An article that appeared in a 1946 edition of the Echo claimed the reason could be that no one really knew what a Colby tradition was; it went on to list several practices that had been recently forgotten, and called for action by the Student Council to reinstate some form of tradition, if not those specific ones. The article  ended with a statement intended to rouse students to action: “The people and happenings which have made the Old Campus more than just a small plot of land between the Kennebec and the railroad tracks should not be forgotten; they should be used as a basis on which to build a better Colby.”

It’s been shown that cooperation between students and the Administration can lead to at least an extension of traditions, but the responsibility of keeping them alive ultimately falls to the students. “The reason champagne steps was done away with was because people just treated it as an excuse to get hammered,” said Jake Bleich ’16. “Moving forward—if  the Administration reverted the tradition back to what champagne steps originally was, which was a tradition for students and their professors and other faculty to get together and enjoy a glass of champagne to celebrate this moving on…I think the administration could go for that.” As there have been attempts to revive the tradition, it’s obvious that the champagne steps still holds meaning for some seniors. “Ultimately it’s nice to finish off college and know that you’ve accomplished something and have that cathartic release,” said Bleich. If students and the administration can work together to create a suitable event, the champagne steps could be the first step in reinstating the Colby traditions the school has been missing for decades.