The daylight in my room dimmed, bit by bit, as the sun dropped towards the horizon. I turned on my light and leaned back in the comfy chair, my legs tucked under me. I was paging through Cervantes’ Don Quijote for my Spanish lit class, reviewing some of the chapters I had marked earlier. My senior year college finals were taking place this week.
It was May Day. Monday, May 1, 1995, to be exact.
I turned a page, relishing my single dorm’s quietude. There wasn’t even any hallway noise in Queen Anne’s House. A fancy name for a dumpy yet beloved campus dormitory.
My phone trilled, interrupting my study time. I set my book down and crossed to answer the phone. I could hear the crackle of the intercom system, indicating someone was calling from the entrance, requesting access to the dorm.
“Hello?” The phone to my ear, I peered out my window at the doorway, just below my room.
“Lisa! Let me in, it’s Skip!” My friend called up. He backed out of the doorway and waved at my window. It was already dark outside. I pushed the button to buzz open the door and hung up the phone.
What could he want? I thought as I unlocked the door. Should I try to get rid of him? It was late and I wasn’t feeling in much of a mood to hang out.
He jogged to my door one level up wearing loose shorts and a quarter-zip windbreaker.
His windbreaker was unzipped halfway down his chest. I could see he wasn’t wearing a shirt under it.
That’s odd, I thought.
“I had to wear some clothes to cross the street since it’s illegal to be naked on the crosswalk,” he said as he stripped off his windbreaker and removed his shorts to reveal that those were the only clothes he was wearing. He stood naked in the hallway of my all-female dorm.
“Oh,” I replied, momentarily speechless.
“Come on!” he chirped. “It’s May Day and we’ve gotta get out there!”
“Harrison’s down the hall at Jennifer’s!” he added, gesturing towards my friend’s room. She was the R.A. for the second floor.
“Oh geez. Skip” I asked. “I don’t know…”
I cut a glance to my Cervantes book, and back to the naked guy in my hallway.
May Day at my college wasn’t a regular day. It was a special celebration.
People got naked.
Except in the classrooms or crossing the street, people could take off their clothes without repercussions.
The college’s Literary House held a naked poetry reading organized by students. Anyone there could be naked—whether reading or just attending.
I recalled people in various states of undress all over campus throughout the day. A girl on the sunny bench with shorts and a bra on, but no shirt. My friend R.J. biking naked through campus after lunch.
The men’s eight had taken off their pants (or pulled them down) during the row back to the dock at the end of practice.
A maypole stood in the middle of the campus green.
Students had set up a Slip ‘n’ Slide next to the hill dorms to slide, naked and wet, down the grassy hill.
“We’re seniors and we’ve never done it. Come on,” he cajoled, his clothes balled in his hand.
“What will we do?” I asked.
“Just walk around campus a little. You’ll be back before you know it. Meet us in Jennifer’s room.” Skip turned and made his way down the hall.
It is my senior year. I thought. I am already prepared for the Spanish final.
This could be fun, I decided. I changed into a large t-shirt I could quickly remove after we crossed the street. Otherwise, I was wearing a hat and sneakers.
Once “dressed,” I hurried to my friend Jennifer’s room. Additional friends Harrison and Tony joined Jennifer and Skip. All the boys were convincing her to celebrate May Day as well.
“Let’s do this!” I said. She agreed and the five of us set out to cover the campus, starting with crossing the street, clothed.
On the other side of the crosswalk, safely on the campus grounds, we stuffed our clothes into someone’s backpack.
And so our senior year May Day campus walk began.
We wound through campus as if we were marking a dotted line on a treasure map. We hit all the hot spots.
We walked through the library. We played a giddy impromptu game of hide-and-seek amid the bookshelves. We walked circles around the reading area, snickering at our own audacity.
We strolled through the student center like celebrities waving at our biggest fans. We called out names of our fully-clothed friends if we spotted them, “Hey Dave! Hi Kathy!”
Most people froze in their tracks. Some laughed, or hooted, or high-fived us.
We stopped at the popular hill dorms, but didn’t Slip ‘n’ Slide into the grassy mud puddle forming at the bottom of the slide.
We chatted with people, both dressed and undressed. It was as if we obeyed an unwritten rule to stop and talk to other naked people.
“So, how was your year? What are your plans after graduation?” We discussed normal topics—exams, grades, summer plans.
I was surprised how quickly I shifted from feeling uncomfortable wearing just a hat and sneakers to feeling perfectly normal. Encountering a friend or an acquaintance, we made eye contact when we started chatting instead of looking someone up and down.
We passed the maypole, where we waved to the other revelers. We had more friends to visit.
Our last pass across campus was to visit the remaining friends we hadn’t seen around campus. These dorms were the final stop on our May Day Campus Tour. It was our one shot to try to see as many friends we could.
At the Cardinal dorms, groups of people were hanging out. We joined them and raised a glass, celebrating in our birthday suits and toasting to May Day.
I owe a debt of gratitude to my friends for dragging me from my cozy chair out into the crisp night air, to participate in a long and storied tradition greater than myself.