To a non-University of Dallas student, our celebration of Groundhog Day may simply appear to be a time to get together with friends and drink a lot of beer. Though this is part of the appeal, it is much more than a simple excuse for a party. Before discussing why we celebrate Groundhog at UD, we must first have a general understanding of what it means outside of UD.
Many people know that if the groundhog is scared by his shadow and runs back into his hole, winter will continue for another six weeks, prolonging the cold and dark weather. However, if the groundhog is unafraid, it symbolizes the beginning of a new season: spring, along with warmer, brighter weather.
So how does this relate to UD? In 1963, just seven years after the university’s founding, there were few traditions or celebrations. A group of students, including my grandfather, James Fougerousse of the class of 1967, went into the office of then-president Dr. Donald Cowan with a request. As my grandfather recalled;
“In February 1963, the student body president, Dick Baker, at the innocent instigation of the University of Dallas president, Dr. Donald Cowan, decided to go out with as large a group of students as we could arouse at sunrise to celebrate the emergence of the Great Groundhog. And lo! After the recitation of an Ode to the Groundhog, the creature appeared, as if by magic, from a culvert under the nearby road and partook with us from a keg of a traditional Northern European beverage brewed from Stone Age ingredients such as malt and hops. Since the groundhog had not eaten anything for several months, he soon felt the effects of the traditional beverage and became utterly fearless in the face of the rising sun and the long shadows it was casting all about him. After an hour or two of Dionysiac celebration we all went off to our 8 o’clock classes.”
That first celebration of Groundhog Day was the beginning of one of the now longest standing traditions here at UD. It was a way to get students and faculty together to drink and be merry. But it is more than that. My mother, also a UD alumna, knows that Groundhog is a celebration of tradition and fellowship, though it helps to have—as she says—“a bonfire, beer, profound conversation…as well as some shenanigans.
Fifty-three years later, this celebration still holds a lot of meaning. As a senior, I have put much thought into my life after gradutation, when I will not be able to see most of my friends on a daily basis – or even once a year. Groundhog at UD is a unique occasion: it brings people together who otherwise might not see each other.
Many alumni hold parties of their own all over the country, and the celebration becomes much bigger, including people not officially associated with the university. To show how Groundhog cheer can spread, I asked my mother what Groundhog meant to her even before becoming a UD student.
“I heard about this celebration a lot as a small child, principally because Papa was always running around to Irving area costume shops looking for any costume that approximated a groundhog,” my mother said. “He usually ended up with a bear costume. Groundhog Day was a normal part of life; I did not know it wasn’t a universal celebration.”
Groundhog at UD is a time and place that all past, present and future students, faculty and staff know will be around for many years, allowing for many reunions that otherwise might not be able to happen.
The J.R.R. Tolkien quote on this year’s sweatshirt says: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
Groundhog provides a special moment for all to enjoy each other’s company and have a good time, despite whatever else is going on in the world.