Groundhog 2019: change and continuity

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The crowd cheers on the visiting band Scythian at the 2019 Party in the Park. Photo courtesy of Patrick Callahan.

Blue and red lights illuminated the stage where Alexander Fedoryka played the fiddle beside a fellow member of the band Scythian. Their tunes elicited a chorus of cheers and raised glasses from the crowd below, a mass of grey and blue sweatshirt wearers who, by this time, were as effervescent as the beer they drank.

The celebration of Groundhog Day at the University of Dallas is a perplexing and amusing tradition that has evolved from a student-initiated, 24-hour celebration in the woods to its current state, boasting catered food, a professional stage and craft beer.

Despite drastic alterations, Groundhog continues to connect diverse members of the UD community and links together the past and the present.

One tangible shift in the Groundhog tradition is the increase in cost. According to a post on the University of Dallas Alumni for Liberal Education Facebook page, tickets in 1984 cost $10, while this year’s basic ticket totaled $45.

According to Student Activities Coordinator and Groundhog co-planner Moey Brown, this year’s ticket cost was equivalent to last year. However, according to a post on the University of Dallas Alumni Community website, tickets cost $40 last year.

This year, in addition to the original ticket, alumni had the opportunity to purchase “Alumni Tickets” and “Founders Tickets.”

Brown wrote that the new ticket options were developed in response to feedback received after Groundhog 2018.

“We wanted to give people in the community a chance to experience something a little extra,” she wrote.

While more expensive than the classic ticket — costing $70 for the Alumni ticket and $125 for the Founders tickets — the tickets included perks such as a commemorative beer stein and private bathrooms.

Another innovation is the introduction of paper tickets in 2018. While park rules have been in effect for a number years, this is the second year that the Office of Student Affairs has required a paper ticket to enter the park in addition to the sweatshirt.

Brown wrote that the primary motivation for distributing tickets is to prevent “confusion about what is and is not allowed in the park.”

For some, these changes may appear contrary to Groundhog’s light-hearted atmosphere.

The “whole point” of Groundhog is its “stupidity”: the comedy of a disproportionate celebration of an arbitrary holiday, said English department chair and UD alumnus Dr. Gregory Roper.

Roper, who attended his first Groundhog since his undergraduate years in 2018, said he was struck by the professional atmosphere now surrounding the event.

When he was a student, Roper explained, Student Government oversaw Groundhog plans. Groundhog was a collection of students blasting “the Who, the [Rolling] Stones, the Beatles, and [Bruce] Springsteen” from personal stereos and playing guitar near a campfire.

While he was aware of some of the alterations before attending Groundhog last year, Roper said he thought the event was “too tidy.”

Although Party in the Park is no longer held in the woods because of excessive mud in 2015, Roper said that getting “filthy” was an essential part of the Groundhog experience and contributed to the “wonderfully goofy” spirit of Groundhog.

However, Roper conceded that it is folly to expect that nothing would have changed from his student years. The drinking age has increased from 18 to 21, he noted with a smile, adding, “there are these people called lawyers.”

“I worry about the continual rise in prices,” said Alex Taylor, a philosophy student in the Braniff Graduate School. “I hate to think that rising costs … would be the cause for some students not being able to attend.”

Freshman Grace Nye wrote that she almost did not attend Groundhog due to the cost of this year’s sweatshirt.

“I wanted to go because it’s the school’s most prevalent tradition and because the sweatshirts are such a trademark of the university,” Nye wrote. “However, when I found out how expensive the tickets were, I had a moment of hesitation.”

Nye wrote that she was still planning to attend with friends until she had to purchase this semester’s textbooks. After that, she explained, “I just couldn’t afford it.”  

Additional deterring factors were the design and her inability to drink alcohol, especially compared to the price of the sweatshirt.

“Many of [my friends and I] were upset that minors have to pay the same amount as those over 21, since we won’t get unlimited free alcohol as well,” she wrote.

She was still not planning to attend as of last Thursday until two friends purchased her a sweatshirt as a surprise.

According to Taylor, Groundhog celebrations in recent years have drifted away from the party’s intent. An increase in cost, in addition to the introduction of craft beers and restaurant food, detract from the experience, he wrote.

“There’s something oddly nostalgic” about drinking the beer served at TGIT, Taylor explained. “Food is essential — but fancy food is not.”

Junior transfer student BeLynn Hollers wrote that she had never heard of Groundhog before transferring in the fall, and struggled to understand why her new classmates were eagerly anticipating a holiday celebrating a rodent.

“I expected Groundhog to be ‘just’ some party,” Hollers wrote.

Instead, she discovered that “Groundhog brought together the community of UD for the simple purpose of joy.”

Like Hollers, Lucas Thorpe also expressed apprehension about being new to the UD community during Groundhog.

Thorpe, who was visiting his older sister, a junior, wrote that he was surprised by the welcoming atmosphere. Those he met “often went out of their way to get to know me,” he wrote.

Groundhog is “about gathering past and present members of a family to experience a dope fellowship,” Thorpe observed on Sunday.

“I’m still not sure what … point Groundhog is supposed to make, but I think that if you are arriving at that question instead of remembering the run, you’ve already missed the point,” Hollers concluded.

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