Alan Rice Remembers

Here’s how I remember the class banner creation coming about. I think it had to be freshman year, not sophomore year (my last at Mount Hermon), because the purpose of the exercise was to materialize a symbol for our class to rally around in time for inter-class competitions by the end of the school year. On the other hand, it couldn’t be too early in our first year, before a class identity had started to form. So I think it was mid to late autumn – football team-building season – when one day most if not all the prior year class banners appeared at the top of the walls in the dining hall, just below the butter plane of the ceiling. An evening or two later, giving us time to acquaint ourselves with them, the freshman class was detained in the hall after dinner and formally asked to produce their banner to add to the tradition.

I did feel a surge of interest in the project, then a counter surge: who of my classmates knew that? I didn’t want to make a spectacle; it had to be coming from the class as a whole. I nodded and raised my hand slightly. In a second I heard my name nominated and seconded, so I turned to the design, starting with the conclusions I’d drawn from observing the other banners.

Whoever was conducting the meeting wisely didn’t end it there in under a minute. Wouldn’t a committee better connect the creative process with the group being represented in the commissioned representation? I had no quibble with that, nor, it seemed, did anyone else. A creation team of three was agreed to be implicitly correct. Here my mind has preferred its own priorities as time ratchets up the threshold for recall: while I’m less certain of the names of my co-creators – I felt like I met them that night – I found we were well-suited temperamentally, worked easily together and were basically on the same page as to how to tackle the job. Over the last few days I’ve looked at each named face in our class in the 1967 and -68 yearbooks and made my best reconstruction: the second committee member unanimously voted in was Collins Lein, and the third was Steve Chiasson..

Nonetheless, the meeting may still have only lasted 5 minutes because all the energy suddenly concentrated on the creators’ meeting which commenced immediately. My strongest conclusion from familiarizing myself with the banners was that if your Latin was weak, you were excluded from the “club” who sponsored the banner until you found a translator. Almost all the banners were in Latin. By simply proclaiming our motto in English we could a) distinguish ourselves fast in a crowded field, b) thereby endear ourselves to our observers, and c) mock aspirational elitism. This notion had already entered the other creators’ minds, so was quickly adopted. Now feeling empowered, we turned to the central issue: what is our English motto? The traverse was made in two steps. Artists that we were, we knew, having snatched the high ground conspicuously, we had better balance boldness with unexpected conservatism to hold our admirers. Our motto would come from the Bible to testify that we have not forgotten from whence we come, what is our bedrock and ever-greatest hope. Of course, that allowed us to make our next move boldly after all! I felt the spirit we were looking for is compactly put in “Seek and Ye Shall Find”. This was immediately greeted as a viable candidate, justifying our procedure, and we set about finding competitors. I forget what we came up with, though there were several others once we got going, because SAYSF proved remarkably robust at defending itself as uniquely essential advice.

Though some classmates watched, the original meeting dissipated, and, after a while, we agreed the only way to cement this much progress was to sleep on it; I think an attendant faculty member may have suggested it. As the above had transpired like lightning initially, some of the first creators’ meeting turned to the third consideration: layout. Here again, perhaps surprisingly, we worked swiftly from abstract first principles we seemed to equally understand. Many of the other banners are almost insistently two-dimensional, as if in honor of imaginative restriction. Our background would preferably spring from space. Again, in conservative counterpoint, we specified that the motto and reference to the school were to be in highly legible block lettering – so the class year number could flex psychedelically! I liked the idea of the year coming toward the observer as if rising with the sun from behind a hill: the dawn of a new day. The positives of the sun as the natural object identifying our three-dimensional space swept us on to detailing the sun as mixed fixed pointy rays interspersed with only similar curving plumes of plasma. The layout snapped together at this point. The sun is all about the center – and provides an excuse for the class year number to belong there too. Our motto is our bedrock embedded in the hill over which the sun rises. To honor our sponsors, “MH” was given the position of the postage stamp on our postcard to the universe. The meeting adjourned with a sense of accomplishment at having met the calling for which we had been tapped – and my action item to reconcile the necessity of the hill for contrast and depth with the design of its “terminations” – its left and right extremes.

I think the banner committee met only once or twice more, even more briefly. In rationalizing my placement of the hill’s “wings” I documented our agreed-upon design sufficiently that we were soon ready to present it to the class and the felt cutters, neither event proving memorable. The left and right hill wings are indicated by the words “Seek” and “Find”, respectively, in the motto. As a hill it must rise from somewhere – the Found Land, the bedrock itself; so the hill rises from the right. It is on the left that the balance of the design is tipped once and for all toward Freedom! If a hill is a symbol of “what goes up must come down”, then the hill will descend on the left too – constricting our search. The hill could plateau moving offstage left, but this elevates ambiguity, hiding, teasing and endless other dark arts. But what if the hill went up from its “top”?!?! Not just as a minor peak among majors, but completely flipping over the sky. Isn’t that what space travel means? Don’t the heavens roll like a scroll in Revelation? The idea propagates through like a seismic sinewave from sky to ground, a dynamic keyhole through which the sun appears in a whole new character – as when a total eclipse reveals the corona makes the sun twice its apparent size – and far less round. The final design variable was pinned down by the skyward hill. The third color is blue – for the sky above – and below – the sun. Our real bedrock is in heaven. The sun, sourcing all else, is the orange of high energy fire. The sun lives, not in the sky, but in a place of spotless purity that sustains it, our motto and our class year: the “color” white – the mixture of all colors.

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