Throwing Pie at the President

Throwing Pie at the President October 21, 2018

Traditions, especially weird traditions, and college programs go together. I have been told there is an Oxford college that commemorates a duck every one hundred years. I shall not check in case this is not true.

Perhaps the strangest tradition in the college program at The Saint Constantine School is the ability, once a year, for any student to throw a pie at professors and then at the President. (Tip: the tin plate hurts more than the whipped cream, though the whipped cream will take the color out of your shoes.)

This year was like every other as I once again got treated like a vaudeville comedian in a nineteenth century comedy routine. It was fun and good for the soul.

A problem with being a leader is being cosseted. You look your best, sound your best, are your best self, because some hard working people make it so.

Nobody looks their best when hit with a whipped cream pie. A former student said something on the order of “nobody should be a president who cannot be hit with a whipped cream pie.”

There is truth to this.

Of course, the Secret Service cannot let us throw pies at Mr Obama or Mr Trump, too many crazies out there, but being President of the United States comes with automatic humbling. About half the nation will pick the worst pictures, the most unflattering statements, create ugly memes, and launch them to millions. Foreign governments will nudge this along on social media for the sheer joy of messing with us.

The rest of us, leaders of a much lesser sort (in my case, insert many muches here), have to be more careful. It is too easy to drift into hearing from syncophants and talking only to our fans. Instead, we need  a chance to hear real opinions, where nobody fears getting in trouble, and take a pie in the face, or two, or three.

We know this so we sign up for “dialog,” “have an open office,” or pretend to listen.

Being a good sport is not as easy as it seems. If you go to “big shot” meetings, having someone say you are “chicken” if you do not put your whole head into the pie zone is less easy to take then you might think.

Yet it is wholly good.

My dad, in leadership for decades, once said that a very, very bad sign in a leader is someone who cannot abide criticism, a joke, or taking a pie in the face or two. Actually, the last is not exactly what he said, but gets to the essential point. No leader is anything other than a person and we are all a bit absurd in fact.

Of course, now that I have written this . . . I have my reward. Actually getting a pie in the face, listening and changing when the team does not agree, is much harder than taking a charity pie in the face.

It is necessary, I am not always good at it (Lord, have mercy!), but I hope to be better every year.


If we love the good, the truth, and beauty, then we will humble self to exalt what is best. That humility is (oddly) exalting, since associating with the goodness, truth, and beauty is wonderful.

May we all, if called to leadership, take a few pies in the face.


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