The Mirror Lake jump is stupid. Let’s get that out of the way right away.
It is a tradition that is not at all important when compared to the countless actual trials this world, and even this college, faces. But while it may lack gravity, the jump does hold a role at Ohio State. It is special. It is ridiculous. It is fun.
At the surface level, amid all the high stakes academics over eight semesters for a standard OSU student, jumping into a pond once (well, maybe twice) per year is a welcome relief — a way to blow off a bit of steam in a way that costs the school approximately two students’ yearly tuition and housing fees per year in repairs and seriously harms no one.
And while there is certainly very little steam coming off the surface of the lake those late-November nights, the jump has an intangible warmth in its unification of students toward a common goal: leaping into a cold pond. Again, that’s it. It’s stupid. To staunchly and seriously argue the jump’s value is pointless. But to revoke it is blasphemy, and that’s what Ohio State encroached towards this year.
While the administration didn’t ban the jump entirely, it did squeeze it into submission in the from of restrictive hospital wrist bands, required for admittance to the jump at a single entry point. In a sense, the new measures killed the traditional version of the Mirror Lake Jump. The student body’s spirit was split over two jumps (one official, one not), and the atmosphere and magnitude of each were complete inverses of each other.
The Mirror Lake Monday movement was born on Twitter some time between Sunday and Monday. Despite gaining traction throughout the day Monday, it had no certainty of success until it actually happened. By nightfall, university police had surrounded the already fenced-in lake as a deterrent. For most students, the threat of police involvement was enough of a reason to stay away if the fence wasn’t already.
But at approximately 11:30 PM, small cells of students began to form around the fence at various points before clumping into two main factions. A larger group gathered on the southeast edge, and another, smaller force established itself on the west side of the boundary. I was among the latter group and was unaware of the southeast front.
Among the general excitement and commotion around me, a female voice rang out. “We just want to feed the ducks!” At this point, a “Feed the ducks!" chant broke out. A bystander next to me, not there for the jump, expressed his opinion that nothing was going to happen. The police did less than nothing to stop what did.
Mere seconds after that single doubter, just one among what must have been many, expressed his negative sentiments, a cheer broke out on the western front as a steady stream of southeastern invaders, led by one bold student, rushed down to the water’s edge. A short period of uncertainty as to how we should proceed was broken when several western students simply knocked down a portion of the fence.
That was it. Mirror Lake wall had fallen to an army of approximately 1500, along with any of the university’s hopes at 100% containing the event this year.
What made Monday’s jump special was the unification it possessed. Every student there arrived with the goal of defying the new regulations of the event. Every student there wanted that fence gone and knew there was no way inside without that happening. Perhaps because of this, there was a strange sobriety about the Monday jump.
A very low proportion of jumpers actually showed signs of intoxication when compared to a normal Mirror Lake affair. For the first time, hope and belief in others were unexpectedly required to jump in a cold pond, and the spirit and focus of those at the Monday jump reflected that. It wasn’t about chaos this time. It was about chaotic rebellion. But what the Monday jump possessed in its determination, it lacked in numbers. This flaw is what allowed the administration to win on Tuesday.
The official Mirror Lake jump saw essentially a normal turnout in numbers, though perhaps slightly less. The majority of students arrived between 11 and 12 with wristbands and measurable blood alcohol levels. While it lacked the degree of crowded chaos from previous years -- with a maximum of only a few dozen students in the water at any one time -- it seemed that almost everyone who jumped enjoyed themselves and personally deemed the event a success.
The only real disappointment of the Tuesday event was its general “school event” feel. To say this year’s jump was not sanctioned by the school, as Ohio State claims, is simply false. There were signs, gates, controlled entry rates, and event staff monitoring everything that occurred both inside and outside the gates, not to mention the wristband restriction to enter. While wristbands ceased to be an actual requirement by about 11:30 due to the influx in the amount of students that began arriving at that time, entry was kept exclusive to the single opening on the southeast side of the lake for the duration.
Throughout the evening, I witnessed several instances of small groups of students attempting to enter through the exits or climb the fences, only to be forcefully shoved away by officers or volunteer event staff. At one point, a male student with long hair and painted face shouted “Rush the fence! Rush the fence!” only to look around and see that no one was paying him any attention whatsoever.
It was a lack of necessity for the gates to fall that kept them standing on Tuesday night. Unlike Monday, entry was possible without them falling, and enough people were content to follow the new regulations that the jump went according to plan for the school. Though the restrictions of this year’s jump were not ideal, they were also not catastrophic. The jumped lived on, even if it lacked the exact excitement levels it once had.
While no one has ever died during the Mirror Lake Jump, it certainly was a possibility each and every year. So if the university was able to decrease that risk by stepping up control, then it would be difficult to fault them for it. What is disconcerting is that the administration’s clear desire to eliminate the jump entirely could result in much more dangerous situations when that happens.
The spirit of Mirror Lake Monday and the numbers of Mirror Lake Tuesday seemed to indicate that the student body’s demand for the jump will survive. When push comes to shove next year, or whenever Ohio State tries to cancel the jump for good, the first truly dangerous Mirror Lake scenario may result. And that might be about as stupid as the Mirror Lake Jump, itself.
Cameron Duffner is a sophomore in Ohio State's College of Engineering. He does not, in fact, give a damn about the whole state of Michigan.