As students walked the paths on Monday, pajama and slipper clad, there was clear unity on campus. PajaMa-nday marked the first of five spirit days this week in preparation for the Andover/Exeter games on Saturday. Dressing up in costumes every day of the week not only promotes school spirit and supports our student athletes, but can also lessen the stress of the week before finals.
On Thursday of spirit week falls the annual Exeter Geek Day, when Andover students sport red clothing and nerd glasses, carry around calculators, and post pictures on social media with math and science puns as captions. The day is based on the humorous stereotype that Exeter students are “geeks” due to their commitment to academic rigor. While Exeter Geek Day is intended to poke fun at our rival school, this fun is harmless, and there is nothing damaging about the event.
There’s nothing wrong with a classic, friendly rivalry. Schools with high expectations and high pressure often breed competition, which is not always a bad thing. Timothy Gunn, Psy.D., a neuropsychologist, says competition helps students “earn critical social skills… while also learning the value of hard work and developing self-esteem and self-efficacy.” Healthy competition promotes personal and athletic development and forces students to be more creative. By encouraging this competition through Exeter Geek Day, we are promoting growth between both schools.
The Andover/Exeter rivalry is certainly healthy, and it is possible to participate in it while maintaining friendships with students from the other school. I went to Exeter Summer School in 2016 and am now a Junior at Andover. After considering both schools during the application process, I strongly preferred Andover. I considered it a more cordial school, as well as more athletic (perhaps because Andover consistently beats Exeter in sports); Exeter seemed more like an academic, Type-A paradise. However, I still have a few friends from Exeter Summer who attend Exeter now. In fact, I saw my friend Dylan O’Day, PEA ’21, at a volleyball game just a few weeks ago. Although I was overjoyed to see Andover crush Exeter, I was even happier to see a friend. We are now rivals, but we can still appreciate our past experiences together.
While some may argue that Exeter Geek Day promotes a harmful stereotype, I believe there is no such problem. Students at both Andover and Exeter welcome academic rigor and could both be classified as “geeks.” By having an Exeter Geek Day, Andover exhibits a certain self awareness which makes it all the more funny. It is not a mean-spirited day meant to taunt or exclude others; if anything, we are poking fun at ourselves as well.
Sometimes, rivalries can go too far, but there is no evidence that the Andover/Exeter has ever been anything but friendly. Those against the rivalry may mention past instances of vandalism, including an incident during Fall 2015 when “Go Big Red” and other phrases were graffitied onto the Elson Courtyard. However, there is no proof that the culprits were really Exeter students. The vandalism may have been inspired by Andover/Exeter, but conflict between certain groups of people will exist regardless of whether there is a school rivalry. The graffiti could have instead been political, discriminatory, or just nonsensical. The incident was carried out by someone who wanted to harm Andover for unclear reasons, but in truth it had nothing to do with Andover/Exeter. The rivalry in itself has always been harmless entertainment.
I cannot speak on Exeter’s school culture, but the key to Andover/Exeter is understanding that both schools are exceptional (well, Andover is a little better) and that each school is right for different people. The students I know at both schools are caring, smart individuals who are at the perfect school for them, just as I am at the right school for me. We are all mature enough to understand that the competition is not serious. There is nothing wrong with a friendly rivalry, as long as we remember that it is just that: friendly.
Ava Ratcliff is a Junior from Bearsville, N.Y.