Lazy Like a Fox

If you’re in Winter Park today and find yourself wondering what the hell all those Rollins students are doing skipping class, forget it, Jake.  It’s Fox Day.

The best way to describe Fox Day is the day you wake up early to find out you can sleep late.  Back in the spring of 1956, then-president of Rollins Hugh McKean decided it was just too damn nice out.  So early in the morning, he placed a fox statue on the main campus lawn and cancelled all classes.  As you can imagine, it became an immediate hit — with the students at least, if not with the professors who saw their lessons for that day go out the window — and has been going strong ever since.

So every spring, the bells at the Knowles Memorial Chapel wake everyone up, and they all go sprinting out to the lawn to see this little statue that gives the permission to do what most of them probably have done a good handful of times already that semester:  skip class because the weather is good.  I’m not sure how it’s done now, but in my time at Rollins, we’d rush over to the office of President Thaddeus Seymour — forever “Thad” to us — for orange juice and donuts, and to get our official Fox Day proclamations.  Then most of us would go back to our rooms to sleep for another hour or two — since this all usually happened around six in the morning — before getting down to the serious business of going to the beach, playing frisbee on the lawn, or just doing absolutely nothing remotely academic.  And if a few beers were consumed in a responsible manner, well, so be it.

Of course, as soon as the calendar ticks into spring, Rollins students start anticipating Fox Day.  They’ll analyze dates of past Fox Days trying to find a pattern.  They’ll look for any kind of sign:  a class mysteriously being cancelled, odd deliveries at the president’s office, the temperature hitting a certain mark for a certain number of days in a row.  Everyone knows someone who knows someone who swears Fox Day will be next Tuesday, or this Thursday.  People start playing “Fox Day Roulette,” staying up late or blowing off homework because they’re so certain tomorrow will be Fox Day, only to be nursing crippling hangover or grumbling through last-minute paper writing when they turn out to have been wrong.  I remember mornings where we’d get up at 5:00am to hide behind trees on the lawn so we could spy the statue rolling out, our anticipation slowly turning to disappointment as we realized not only did we look like a bunch of idiots, but that we’d lost a good two hours of sleep in the process.

But my most vivid Fox Day memory is of the one we knew was coming.  Thad had announced he’d be retiring as president after the spring semester of 1990, and near the end of an emotional farewell celebration that included a lot of reminiscing and more than a little champagne, Thad concluded his speech with, “Oh, and happy Fox Day tomorrow.”  The students in attendance sat in stunned silence for a moment, processing what they’d just heard, making sure they weren’t mistaken.  Then as fast as they could clear out of the building, a mobilization effort unlike anything since D-Day got under way.  Car pools to the beach were organized.  Reservations at restaurants on Park Avenue were made.  Parties were planned.  And, in a testament to the sheer indomitable spirit of the Rollins student body, the 7-Eleven across the street from the campus completely sold out of beer by midnight that night.  While the thrill of that early morning surprise may have been taken away from us, we more than made up for it with the strength of our abandon.

Nowadays, technology has taken a bit of fun out of the chase.  There’s now a webcam pointed at the spot on the lawn where the fox will appear, allowing students to spy on him without ever leaving the warmth of their beds. Facebook and Twitter let the word get out without the frantic running down dorm halls shouting “FOX DAY!!!” at the top your lungs.  But it also lets those of us who aren’t on campus experience Fox Day vicariously, as “Happy Fox Day!” appears on our Facebook feeds and makes people wonder what the big deal is about a fox statue with a missing foot.

And so, “whereas this morning symbolizes quintessentially the vernal perfection of Nature’s beauty; and whereas a liberated mind and wholesome spirit require periodic renewal at Nature’s font; and whereas Nature calls us to put aside for a day our mundane tasks,” here’s to a happy Fox Day.  May the skies be clear, the companionship warm, and the 7-Elevens full of beer.


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