A young girl stepped into her neighbor’s garden in the frigid February air. Her neighbor, a woman from Czechoslovakia, led the girl into the garden and proceeded to take out a comb from her coat pocket. She pulled out the hair that had collected in her comb and spread it all through the garden, draping it on trees and placing it on the ground.
When she noticed the young girl intently observing her, she said “Oh, the birds are choosing the ones they love,” as she continued to spread her hair for birds to use as nesting material.
That young girl was Kate Scrivener, English and humanities instructor recalling a Valentine’s Day memory. Despite Scrivener’s unique experience, compared to the Hollywood cliche of a man showering a woman with red roses and extravagant gifts, there isn’t only one “right” way to spend the holiday.
Earlier this month, Clark students, faculty and administration revealed how multi-faceted Valentine’s Day can be for them. They celebrate in various ways depending on family circumstances, background, personal preferences and, maybe most influentially, the marketing industry.
College President Bob Knight, who has been married for 32 years, said he sees it as a day “you take time out to focus on your loved one.” He said he celebrates nonchalantly by giving his wife a small gift and a card and going out to a restaurant.
For many, the “loved one” is broader than a spouse or partner.
Nineteen-year-old student Fatmata Conteh said it’s not necessary to have a romantic partner as long as you have deep feelings for someone. She celebrates with family and friends by going out to eat and watching romantic comedies.
“We’ve never gone a year without celebrating it,” Conteh said.
Likewise, Communication Studies instructor Molly Lampros said she spends the holiday as a family night in with board games, Legos, movies, a quiet dinner with her husband and two sons. Her husband usually brings her flowers around Valentine’s Day, but they “don’t exchange gifts or go out to dinner or do any of the traditionally considered forms of romantic expression,” Lampros said.
Lampros, who has been married for eight years, said she believes kindness, love and affection should be year round — and for the whole family.
A 35-year-old student and mother, Angel Huynh, said that since she had a son, Valentine’s Day has become centered around family. Huynh said she usually spends the day relaxing with her parents and son, watching cartoons and going out to a Korean restaurant or making dinner together at home.
Family is also the focus for Director of Student Life Sarah Gruhler, who is one of four daughters. To this day, Gruhler said her dad never fails to send a card to each of them on Valentine’s Day. Gruhler said the day is for “people you care about, people that you love…to let them know that you’re thinking of them and that they matter to you.”
Nonetheless, psychology instructor Tess Yevka said the marketing industry promotes the mindset that you must have a romantic partner who will adorn you with diamonds, deliver thousands of roses and take you out to an expensive restaurant. Yevka said Valentine’s Day has become more like a day to prove your love, instead of celebrate it.
Music professor Richard Inouye agreed. “Valentine’s Day has become way too much commercially invested,” he said. “It seems that commercialism has really overshadowed the true meaning of what it was originally intended for.”
But some say most in the marketing industry neglect different types of romantic relationships.
“The queer community definitely celebrates Valentine’s Day,” said Lily Pirayesh-Townsend, president of the Queer Penguins and Allies club. “The media is just not going to be willing to acknowledge that they do.” Store shelves are lined with cards that are designed for heterosexual relationships, with no representation for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Pirayesh-Townsend said.
Either way, 20-year-old Clark student Alec Higley said he thinks commercialization is not necessarily a bad thing and he enjoys exchanging small gifts with his wife and going out to a restaurant or making dinner at home.
Twenty-year-old Shuntaro Tsukazaki, president of the International Club, has grown up with a different way of celebrating. In Japan, Valentine’s Day is celebrated by women giving chocolate to men who they fancy, as a way of confessing their love. One month later is White Day, another widely celebrated holiday where men give chocolate and gifts back to women from whom they received chocolates on Valentine’s Day.
Nine out of 13 Clark students ranging from 15 to 35 years old said they don’t celebrate or place much emphasis on Valentine’s Day.
Eighteen-year-old De’Angelo Hall said he doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day because his parents never did. “Intimacy and romance should be year-long, not just on a day because love is an unconditional thing,” Hall said.
Vice President of Instruction Tim Cook said his view of the holiday is different as an adult. “When I was a teenager, Valentine’s Day seemed to be a bigger deal than it is now,” Cook wrote in an email.
Athletic Director Ann Walker said she sends cards to her young niece and nephew, but otherwise, she doesn’t give much thought to the holiday. “When it gets to be February, I’m just thinking about the basketball season,” Walker said.