It’s the morning of Feb. 14 and 13 students clad in suave red jackets and khaki dress pants crowd into a small dorm room, where an enthusiastic couple is waiting. One of the singers hums a brief starting pitch before beginning the serenade — a tender rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl.”
No matter, as the couple soon stops focusing on the singers, becoming more interested in each other’s company than in the song.
Such is a common scene for the Mendicants on Valentine’s Day every year, as the singers scurry around campus from dawn to dusk in order to perform a series of personal serenades.
However, Valentine’s Day on campus features a number of other traditions as well, from some based on philanthropic efforts to others founded on old-fashioned chivalry.
Music to My Ears
The Mendicants’ Valentine’s Day serenades continue a decades-old tradition dating back to before the 1980s. While the background behind the Mendicants’ first serenades has been obscured through time, the performances are very much in line with the group’s history and goal of “winning the hearts of men and women alike,” according to Chris Andrews ’04, a former Mendicant.
Serenades are available for booking in the weeks preceding Valentine’s Day through online signups. Starting early in the morning, members of the Mendicants begin their long day of crooning by waking up their first clients with boisterous song. The singers then give the serenaded person a rose before hurrying to their next performance.
With only about 15 minutes for each serenade, including transit and positioning time, singers skip classes for the day and rush across campus to make each gig. Sometimes even entire-dorm serenades are ordered.
“It helps show that [the client] went the extra mile; they didn’t just buy chocolates or something,” said Ben Isaacs ’16, a Mendicants member.
Isaacs recalled a series of serenades last year where a student jokingly booked the Mendicants to sing for his roommate five times throughout the day. In past Valentine’s Days, the group has even sung for marriage proposals and to the wives and husbands of professors and deans.
Chivalry at its finest
A tradition specific to freshman dorms is the practice of having freshman boys roll out female dormmates on the morning of Valentine’s Day. Dressed in their finest attire, the men generally wake up the women at dawn and treat them to flowers, chocolate and candy in a traditional show of courtliness.
The rollout tradition varies by dorm, however, especially given concerns of the practice being heteronormative and non-inclusive. Marcelo Clerici-Arias, a residential fellow in Cedro, said that he holds a conversation with the Cedro staff each year, talking about such issues and collectively deciding how to manage the tradition. Some years, they follow the regular tradition of boys rolling out girls, and other years they choose alternatives. Clerici-Arias said this year’s staff decided to roll out the entire dorm, regardless of gender.
Stephanie Eberle, residential fellow in Burbank, said that staff members and dorm government will often choose an alternative event or make the tradition less heteronormative.
“I think that, when all are included, it can really be a celebration of ‘Burbank love,’” Eberle said.
While the sale and distribution of “Crush Grams” by Kappa Alpha Theta has also become a fixture of Stanford tradition, its motivations are based more in philanthropy than in professing love to other students.
Crush Grams are cans of Crush orange soda that are purchased and distributed by members of Theta the day before Valentine’s Day. The grams come with a note from the sender and a bow, and are intended as tokens of gratitude or admiration.
Kendall Cody ’15, chief marketing officer for Theta, said “Crush Grams” proceeds go toward the chapter’s weekly homeless feeds. This year, the chapter sold 340 grams and raised $1,020, according to Cody.
“I think it’s an easy way to support a good cause while showing somebody that you care,” she said.
Relay For Life began a similar effort — selling “Candy Grams,” or packages containing candy and an optional rose — last year. The proceeds go to the American Cancer Society for the purposes of education, advocacy, research and services as well as a variety of other causes. The group has sold almost 600 Candy Grams this year, according to Relay For Life Co-President John Newcomb ’16.
“It’s becoming a staple of what we do,” he said. “It’s a good way not only to spread awareness of cancer, but also to raise money.”
With practiced customs like serenades and rollouts, and traditions like Candy Grams forming each year, Valentine’s Day at Stanford promises old and new features each year.
“It’s a day to show appreciation for the whole community and the members in it,” Eberle said.
Contact Victor Xu at [email protected].