Last Friday, our school held a ceremony to open the intramural competitions. This time though, I was sitting on stage as one of the faculty, while the students ran the whole affair. They had organized the whole thing, and now they were carrying out their plans, in a manner that was both serious and off the cuff devil-may-care. They went through several rites, but the part I liked best was the lighting of the Intramural Flame, which seemed to me inspired by the Olympic Torch Relay. The rite began with a freshman who ran with a lighted torch which she passed on to a sophomore. The sophomore then ran with the freshman in tow toward a junior. The junior then ran, with the sophomore and freshman trailing behind him, and passed on the torch to a senior. Upon receiving the torch, the senior ran, with the three runners now behind him, went up the steps, and lighted a cauldron sitting on top of an ionic column. I like the symbolism behind the rite, though I don’t know if the students appreciated it in the same way.
But seeing the way that the seniors ran the show under the watchful eyes of the faculty, the way the excitement of competition shaped the smiles on their faces (an excitement that could not help but make its presence known), reminded me of chutzpah and how youth perfectly embodies this. Wikipedia provides the following definition:
Chutzpah (/ˈhʊtspə/ or /ˈxʊtspə/) is the quality of audacity, for good or for bad. The Yiddish word derives from the Hebrew word ḥutspâ (חֻצְפָּה), meaning “insolence”, “cheek” or “audacity”. The modern English usage of the word has taken on a broader meaning, having been popularized through vernacular use in film, literature, and television. The word is sometimes interpreted—particularly in business parlance—as meaning the amount of courage, mettle or ardor that an individual has. However in more traditional usage, chutzpah is invariably negative in context.
The word is an apt label for what I saw drove many students that day to yell and clap and run. For many of them the thrill of being young and reckless ran through their bodies, even though perhaps they did not know that was what it was. It is something that I know will drive many of them toward the discovery of great things or the discovery of themselves. Though it is a two-edged sword that could also land them in trouble. I wonder if it’s something I still have, now that I seem to be sitting on the other side of the fence.