U bent hier
Seventy winters are on his teller, and he still partakes in all song festivals and student baptisms at VUB with an unmatched enthusiasm. Tony Dewit fell in love with his wife and student folklore during his years at VUB. “When it comes to traditional student folklore, VUB is unrivalled in Belgium.”
Every year he can still be found at the annual Saint-V parade. No longer to party or sing, he says, but to rank the parade and its floats as a member of the jury. “I look for decorations, how they incorporated the year’s theme into it, the humanistic spirit and maybe somewhat to bribery too (laughs).Treating me to a few beers may help their scores a little. That is to say: they can always try.”
Tony Dewit, despite his blessed age, in some ways still is a bit of a VUB student and can often be found at student activities in Brussels. As if he seems to have eluded the years’ effects, he and his silver hair and mustache still participate in baptisms and many a cantus. He is proud to be a living monument among Brussels’ students. “I haven’t missed a single humanistic song festival and partook in forty baptisms of the Geneeskundige Kring (medical students’ organisation). They treat me like royalty. Whenever they see me, I’m automatically invited to come to their baptism. It is exactly because of their enthusiasm that I keep attending. As soon as I feel I’m no longer wanted, I’ll stay away.”
Dewit officially left VUB almost forty years ago, in 1977, after obtaining his doctorate degree. But his alma mater still holds a special place in his heart. At his fifth floor Heverlee apartment, he shares a great deal of pictures of folkloristic student activities from his own student time. Somewhat faded and foxed, but as unique as ever, he tells us as he digs up a big photo album from his cabinet.
“There used to be only one photographer allowed at the baptisms, since they were not supposed to be shared with outsiders. That photographer was my wife Rita”, says Dewit. Occasionally a well-known face pops up, such as that of Patrick Dewael, on of Open VLD’s leaders. He can be seen visiting the Cristal-Alken brewery, an annual trip at the time. Dewit continues to point out people, his memory clearly intact, in case anybody was wondering. “Ah, this one became a notary and that one a pharmacist”, he continues to identify faces in the photos.
More powerful than the language barrier
Whether he remembers his first Saint-V parade at VUB? “I think that was after VUB got its own campus in Etterbeek. In 1970 we would still hang out at and with ULB students. I don’t even know if Brussels Studenten Genootschap (BSG) existed already. I believe that came shortly afterwards. Hanging out with ULB students was quite normal back then. We shared a campus with them, ate in the same student cafeteria and went to the same parties.
These days there is more separation between the Dutch and French speaking students, but that was definitely not the case back in our time. At one point both universities had their own campuses and the two populations grew apart eventually. I heard that VUB and ULB are collaborating more again now and in my opinion that is a very good thing. I think the ideological similarities between both universities are far more powerful than the language barrier. We already proved that in the early days of VUB. When the two institutions work together, they become the largest university in Belgium. Pretty impressive when you think about it.”
The parade itself used to be a bit more wanton and decadent in the sixties and seventies according to Dewit. Women in fur coats and other bystanders would be besmirched with flowers and eggs. “It was a bit like the student proletariat against the elite that shopped at Avenue Louise, that kind of sentiment.” One time Dewit too was - mistakenly - daubed in flower. “I was already a bit older when I arrived at VUB, so I wasn’t always identified as a student”, he grins. Nevertheless, throwing flowers at bystanders was soon to become a part of folklore history. Due to the many complaints by the victims of flower and egg showers, the cost of insuring the parade would skyrocket higher each year. At a certain point it reached one million franks, quite a sum. “The ULB leadership gave us a choice then: would you like us to spend that budget on student activities or on an insurance policy? That was a no-brainer obviously. It would mean the end of a tradition, but it wasn’t so bad. The most important thing was always the atmosphere during the parade. It was there in my years, and it still is in full swing today. I still thoroughly enjoy it when I see the floats riding by. In that sense there hardly is any difference between the seventies and now.
Dewit had been a biology student in Ghent first, where he had met his wife, but would then go on to major in pharmaceutical sciences at VUB. In his wallet he still carries a student ID with his enrollment number: 223. His wife followed him to Brussels and even registered before him. Unfortunately, she does not have her student ID anymore. “Those were definitely good times, no doubt about it”, she says. “When I wanted to enroll with a major in botanical sciences, as is was called then, the registrar wasn’t sure VUB even offered that option. Not to worry, someone told him: we’ll make sure that there is a course by October 1st. And there was (laughs)! Back then, the level of scientific courses at ULB was miles ahead of Ghent. And even of Leuven.”
Rich history of folklore
For Tony Dewit the acquaintance with VUB and especially its student life was a true revelation. At Ghent University there would always be something to do, but in comparison to what happened - and still happens - at VUB, it didn’t stack up at all. “In my opinion student activities and folklore at VUB are miles ahead of the rest of the country. There is so much more to do than in Ghent and Leuven, you can’t even really compare them.”
Hearing him speak so passionately about his fond memories of student makes you wonder if he still is a student today. “Yes, I know. It’s a virus. Once it get a hold of you, there is nothing you can do. I am a perennial student. But student life is a great preparation for life itself, when you do it right. My one message to students today, if I may: studying is so much more than classes and syllabuses. It is also about experiences and so-called life wisdom. You won’t always find that in books.”
- 70 years old
- Doctor in Pharmaceutical Sciences (VUB, 1977)
- Still partakes in song festivals and the annual Saint-V parade
- Married to VUB-alum Rita Verbeken