So, the really cool part about the house system is that you carry your house affiliation with you long after you leave Caltech. For example, one of the eight houses has their insignia laser engraved onto one of the panels on Curiosity, the Mars Rover. And while we always get to hear about the amazing alums that once lived in our house, it is a rare treat for us to meet them and talk to them. This past weekend was Fleming Alumni Dinner, so alums decided to pay us a visit at house dinner, talk about their lives at Caltech, and what going to Caltech was like back in the old days.
As a house that has a lot of old traditions with no obvious origin (why do we like the number 47 so much?), the alums can often give us a lot of insight, so we can guess when certain traditions came into being. For example, one of the alums told me a story from back when Ditch Day was like Ditch Day on campuses countrywide, not the Caltech-style Ditch Day we’ve all come to love. As a recap, around thirty years ago, when the seniors left campus for a day, it was the frosh’s responsibility to break into their rooms and prank them; generally things like covering all of their utensils in saran wrap, or turning all their furniture upside down. One year, a senior room was even converted to a hot tub. Now, to avoid the pesky pranks brought on the by frosh, the seniors started fortifying their rooms with puzzles, various locks, and sometimes just cement. So, during a Ditch Day while this alum was a freshman, there was this one senior room that was considered impenetrable, but after looking at the house schematics, it was apparent that the seniors neglected that one of the walls was just drywall and plaster. Upon this realization, the frosh then proceeded to cut a hole into the wall to enter the room, pranked the seniors, and then replaced the wall, all within one day.
You always hear about what life at Caltech used to be like, and once you meet the people who lived through and created the traditions you cherish, it really starts to feel like an extended family,