Once a year, seniors gather around the Science Complex fountain to kiss the College goodbye. An elegant affair during Senior Week, the president’s toast to seniors is the final step before students walk the path from the fountain to the Brower Student Center — a march that signifies the bridge from student to alumnus.
As they raise their champagne glasses with President R. Barbara Gitenstein, seniors’ eyes may turn toward the fountain — a landmark of the College, a meeting spot for classes on sunny afternoons and a center for campus organizations’ fundraising events.
For junior criminology major Colleen Warwick, the fountain made the trek to her difficult chemistry class a bit brighter.
“My teacher had us go outside and do work by the fountain,” Warwick said. “I think it’s very pretty. It adds to the beautiful campus.”
“The fountain is an identifier and creates a sense of place — ‘meet me at the fountain,’” said Emily Dodd, communications officer for the College. The fountain appeals to our senses, she explained. “We can see it, hear it, feel it, either when the wind blows a light mist on us as we walk by or by sticking our hand in the water.”
The brick-and-stone fountain is filled with about 3,500 gallons of water. Jets line the circumference of the fountain, causing water to arc and crash onto the stone sphere in the center of the fountain. Each winter, the fountain is drained and then refilled when spring arrives.
The beauty of the fountain is admired by its passing students.
“Well, I have put my hand in it,” junior sociology major Tara Fries said. “It’s aesthetically pleasing.”
But for some students, the fountain is more than a pretty sculpture. It is the center of a treasured campus tradition.
During Welcome Week, many freshmen learn that swimming in the fountain is a must-have addition to their college bucket lists.
“It’s a rite of passage,” senior biology major Colleen Stalter said.
The fountain plunge serves as a bonding ritual for freshmen or a last hoorah for seniors before they jump into the real world.
“I like when they put colored lights in the fountain,” Fries said.
During warm months, the fountain is illuminated by blue lights in the evening — providing extra appeal for any late-night dippers.
When student ambassadors lead potential students on tours of the campus, they are always sure to include a stop at the Science Complex.
Some ambassadors even created a video called “The College Rocks,” which was posted on YouTube on Nov. 16, 2008.
“You may or may not know, (but) the College was named ‘the hot college’ by the New York Times. Come on everyone, let’s go cool off!” one ambassador speaks directly to the camera.
The ambassador then whips off his shirt and runs into the fountain. Eight other students seated around the fountain follow suit, unable to resist the sparkling water. The students giggle as they toss a plastic beach ball in the air and slosh around with their friends.
Swimming in the fountain is not sanctioned by Campus Police, based on the account of several students.
“I felt a little on edge because I thought we would get caught,” junior journalism major Kris Alvarez said. The late-night swim was a bonding experience between Alvarez and his freshmen floor, but as he said “it was early freshmen year. We didn’t have anything to lose.”
Junior sociology major Dawn Kreder was splashing with her friends in the fountain when Campus Police approached and asked them to get out of the fountain immediately. The officers said that the fountain is “not ever cleaned, it’s not filtered and you can get hurt from the jets,” Kreder said.
But Tom Hasty, supervisor of landscape maintenance, said that the fountain can cause little damage to swimmers.
“The fountain’s like a pool, really,” Hasty said.
In order to prevent algae from forming, the fountain is treated with bromine and calcium chloride, chemicals found in public pools. Yet the water jets could potentially poke someone’s eye.
The water jets “come out pretty tight,” he said.
However, Campus Police appear to be somewhat understanding of the tradition.
“After the Eickhoff Ball on the last night of 2009 Senior Week, myself and about five other (sorority) sisters waded into the Science Complex fountain in our dresses,” ’09 alumna Katie Maricic said.
The sisters were swimming in the fountain when Campus Police approached and said, “You girls are so loud you could raise the dead.” After exiting the fountain, Maricic “asked the police to take a picture of us in our soaking wet dresses, and they agreed.”
The final toast for the Class of 2014 is fast approaching. When they raise their glasses around the College icon, some seniors will fondly remember the late-night plunges they took with their friends when they were wide-eyed freshmen. Others may still be hoping to get their final swim in before they toss their cap.
Junior nursing major Gina Brucato, along with many of her student peers, will be satisfied when she stands around the fountain for her final goodbye to the College.
“I’ve been in it,” she said. “Mission fulfilled.”