Why April 14 matters

Springfest was a good thing — if you believe that lessons learned from mistakes can become excellent drivers for positive change.

That’s what happened in the spring of 2010 when an annual student block party got out of hand, leaving a Harrisonburg neighborhood trashed and JMU sporting a big black eye. The press was bad. What was worse was the ammunition it gave to those who gripe about JMU’s presence in Harrisonburg.

Everyone makes mistakes, even college students. Mistakes, however, can be valuable tools when they produce good life lessons — and especially when they provoke positive change. Unquestionably — Springfest — as bad as it was, did just that. Springfest spurred the university administration and students to take a hard look at the relationship between Harrisonburg and JMU.

Historically, there has always been tension between communities in which colleges and universities are located and the citizens of those communities. The universal tension between “town and gown” is as old as the first institutions of higher learning. Harrisonburg is no exception. A college town since 1908, the city has grown and prospered. JMU has also grown. Conflicts are inevitable.

But so is the opposite. Like any successful relationship, however, it takes effort. When “town and gown” is at its best, it becomes a symbiotic relationship that benefits both entities — and that’s what happened following Springfest.

Andy Eblin (’11) and an army of student volunteers spread out all over Harrisonburg shortly after the disastrous Springfest to perform community service. It was a kind of public penance, but it meant far more. It was a deliberate attempt to demonstrate that JMU students wanted to be contributing members of the Harrisonburg community.

At the same time, JMU officials pondered if letting off a little steam and having a some fun toward the end of a long, grueling winter semester might be done a better way. They came up with Madipalooza, which debuted last spring. It was a rousing success and an excellent alternative to the now-defunct Springfest.

This year, on Saturday, April 14, the Big Event and Madipalooza will again occur. Hundreds of students will spread out all over Harrisonburg to perform community service projects. The Big Event is jointly sponsored by  Student Greater Madison and by the SGA. Co-chairs are Truman Horwitz, a junior studying public policy and administration who is executive directive of SGM, and Jessica Morris, a junior sociology major who chairs the SGA’s community and traditions committee.

Students lined up for assignments at last year's Big Event. (photo by the Breeze)

Last year, a thousand students participated in The Big Event. Sign-ups this year are on par to meet or exceed that number, according to Truman.

And in the afternoon, the fun continues on the lawn of the Festival. Mechanical bull. Velcro wall. Lots of inflatables. Zip lines and more. And music. LOTS of music.

Instead of an event that leaves Harrisonburg wondering if it’s worth being a college town, both Madipalooza and The Big Event tell a better story. It should convince even the most diehard JMU bashers that students are determined to be good citizens of  Harrisonburg. And that yes, these university students know how to have crazy fun — sensibly.

To read about last year’s events, visit http://www.jmu.edu/jmuweb/general/news/general11598.shtml
And to learn more about Madipalooza and The Big event — and to sign up — follow these links:

About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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