The University of Dallas’ Groundhog Day celebration has always been distinctly contrarian.
So it’s a bit of a paradox, perhaps, that Groundhog 2016’s sense a rebellion revolved around an unwillingness to let a major change of venue dampen the celebration.
Groundhog’s inception is the stuff of UD legend: a disgruntled administrator, soured by a complaining student body, sarcastically suggests they celebrate Groundhog Day.
They do, and the celebration has carried forward a spirit of cheerful and indomitable defiance in the face of naysayers and the powers that be.
As the great epic poems have shown, such a spirit cannot shine without an opposing force.
This year, that force came from the beloved Groundhog Park itself.
Flooded with water, the park became the adversary of the Groundhog Spirit.
In light of the heavy rain, the Party in the Park was moved to the Madonna Courts area on campus.
Administrators from the Office of Student Life (OSL) braced themselves for a barrage of complaints from upperclassmen.
Students and alumni were assured that the change was only temporary, a disappointing hurdle that would nonetheless be overcome through ingenuity and continued enthusiasm.
“Every year that we are able to go back to the park … we will go back to the park, because that really is the spirit of Groundhog,” Director of Student Life Dore Madere said several weeks before the Party in the Park.
But does that wooded area in Irving truly mark the spirit of Groundhog?
This year’s celebration was poised to answer that question.
The nighttime sky was clear for this year’s Groundhog, and the temperatures were mild. Because of the on-campus location, the bus lines were eliminated, ensuring a much quicker entry into the park.
For the first time, students could sit at picnic tables while enjoying a drink, such as a Deep Ellum Dallas Blonde, and an all-you-can-eat barbeque dinner.
“I know a lot of people appreciated having all those picnic tables…because it’s exhausting, being at Groundhog,” SPUD Director senior Stephen Thie said.
The return of the band Scythian, who also played at 2013’s Party in the Park, was another popular feature.
“It went so unbelievably great,” Thie said. “So many alumni…came up to me and said, ‘That was probably the best Groundhog I’ve ever been to.’”
If anything, things ran more smoothly than in years past.
Madere said that she has heard “nothing but positive feedback” about all the changes, including the necessary alteration in location. In fact, the overwhelming acceptance of the location change came as a surprise.
“The reception to [the new venue] was much better than expected,” Madere said.
Thie was also pleased by the reaction.
“Everyone always has something to say…so [the positive reception] is what surprised me the most,” Thie said.
The extraordinary efforts of Student Life, SPUD, the Campus Safety Office (CSO) and facilities cannot be ignored when discussing the success of the event.
“If I’ve learned anything from this whole process, it’s the power of collaboration with common goals in mind,” SPUD Traditions Coordinator senior Andrew Narduzzi said.
Something else was also at play: that elusive Groundhog Spirit.
“I think [Groundhog] shows how unique this community is…I love how into it everybody gets…everybody just comes together,” Thie said.
Narduzzi said he believes the changes this year brought “new life” to the celebration.
“It will hopefully lead to more creativity in the future, while still remaining true to the central spirit of the event,” Narduzzi said.
Does that spirit still include that legendary spot in the woods?
What at first seemed an obvious answer has been thrown into doubt. Faced with such positive results, Student Life administrators and SPUD have been forced to rethink their assumptions.
“We may strongly consider having it in the same place next year,” Madere said. “We are waiting to hear back from the students.”
Madere stressed that the students and alumni will lead such a significant decision, and that their feedback will determine whether Groundhog 2017 will also be held in the Madonna Courts area.
“We’re pretty open,” Madere said. “We just want to make sure that the students are happy and they have the best Groundhog experience possible.”
Whether that experience includes the traditional park or not, there is little question of Groundhog 2016 being a resounding success.