Informant: USC alumni
“The USC fountain run is a tradition for graduating seniors. They are not allowed to go into the water of any of the fountains at USC or else it is said they won’t graduate. But on the last week of class, they all get together, drink, strip down to their underwear or swimwear, and run through every single fountain at USC. It is this big celebration of achievement and a right that only graduating seniors have. Usually some people get too drunk, but it’s all about celebrating freedom and no more rules. It’s something you do with your friends, and something people reminisce about years later when they meet other USC alumni.”
Analysis: This is a ritualized tradition for separating a ‘privileged’ group of students from the rest. Only seniors are allowed to do this, because it is a right of passage- you cannot participate if you have not completed all the obstacles and challenges that the last four years brought. It entails formally breaking taboos, such as going inside the fountain before you graduate. This superstition also underscores that its a privilege that only people who have completed USC can partake in. After the formalized, restrictive education process at University where rules must be obeyed or else expulsion, students celebrate on the brink of freedom while they are still technically bound to the student body.
The Main Piece
It is customary in Nile’s family to take her cousins in during the summer to help teach them certain life lessons and values that their aunts or uncles feel they are incapable of doing. While taking cousins in and teaching them about life may seem odd to some, Nile finds this completely normal and a part of her life. Cousins would be sent to the Jones household for various reasons. These reasons include losing weight, divorce, adjusting to urban lifestyle, wanting more interaction with other teenagers or children, and learning to be away from home. This was not only for Nile’s cousin’s benefit, but also Nile’s and her family’s benefit. They were able to interact with people who were not in their direct family and learned to deal with social situations which they normally would not. The summer-stay was usually for only one cousin at a time and the child would usually be between the age of ten to sixteen years old. This was an important factor to consider because they wanted to send them in when they were “sort of independent, where they didn’t need to call mommy every night.” The child would be accepted into the family and treated like a normal member. They would do chores, play with the other children, thus molding them and giving them proper social skills and proper habits.
My informant is Nile Jones, a current undergraduate and close friend of mine at USC. She recalls having her cousins over for as long as she can remember. When she asked her mother, her mother stated that they had been doing this since her great, great grandmother was alive. Nile enjoys this tradition because she can see her own personal benefits and those of her cousins. She also feels it is a good way for her to interact with her cousins. The first time her mother told her that her cousins were coming to stay she was confused as to what was going on, but with her mother’s explanation she soon began to understand the meaning behind the tradition.
Nile told me this story as we were sitting together discussing her life at home. I found so many elements of her life differed from mine, I had so many questions to ask. It was casual conversation as we were simply chatting like normal friends. Hearing stories about my friend’s different lives has expanded my mind as I learn about their different lifestyles.
I thought that it was an interesting way for Nile to keep in touch with her cousins. I barely ever talk to my cousins even though they live next door to me. It has encouraged me to reach out and take a more proactive role in their lives. I enjoyed hearing the way that Nile’s family was having a positive influence on their family members, trying to help them out as much as possible.
The informant is a 20 year old student who is currently studying at Dartmouth. He recounts his experience with this initiation tradition and how it made him already feel a part of something.
- So during homecoming weekend at Dartmouth, there is a Dartmouth tradition that tons of alumni come back to campus and are welcomed back into the frats- and each class builds its own bonfire structure, so my class, being a freshman would be 19, and the number of the year you graduate is placed on the top of the structure ( the structure is made out of wood and it is 50 feet high) I didn’t personally participate in making it but my class did. Then on the night of the bonfire, the entire freshman class starts at one dorm and moves through the campus picking up other freshman from each dorm building and eventually making their way to the green, which is where the bonfire getting ready to be lit. Then the freshman are welcomed into an inner circle around which all the other classes and alumni are standing and chanting. The bonfire is lit by select freshman, those who built it, and the freshman class begins to run around the bonfire the number of laps of their graduating year- meanwhile, all the surrounding upper-classmen heckle the freshman to run across the inner circle and touch the fire (which is completely guarded by Hanover police and security because its technically considered trespassing). Eventually, someone finally breaks free of the lap running and tries to touch the fire instigating others to do the same. Literally the police tackle people. This has been a tradition for a really long time, President William Jewett Tucker introduced the ceremony of Dartmouth Night in 1895
- me: so what is the significance of touching the fire?
- If you are caught then you are brought to the police station and the understanding is that an alumni will bail you out of jail, but if you’re not caught, you are seen as a legend from your fellow classmates and the older kids.
- I first heard about this tradition from a sophomore, who touched the fire himself, and was clearly still prideful of that, it was within the first couple of weeks of school.
- I actually did an interview about this in the school paper, but touching the fire for me provided the best welcome possible into dartmouth and solidified the fact that this is a good place for me.
I think that initiations can be really important for anyone in-group. In my opinion they immediately create a sense of community and a feeling of belonging which is so important for a group to stay strong and connected.
“So at my high school we had a senior lawn and senior patio. And in everyone wanted to go on it but only seniors could go on it because it was a special privilege when you reached that age. Each year, there would be a big ceremony on um the last day of classes before finals in which that years seniors handed the lawn and the patio to the juniors.”
Where did you first hear this story?
“When you got to the high schools, one of the first things they tell you is to not step on the senior lawn or patio. And from that, you hear the story of how the lawn and patio are passed down on the last day of classes from the senior class to the junior class.”
What happens when you step on the lawn or the patio?
“You get thrown in the pool. Two seniors will pick you up and throw you in the pool. I saw it once.”
“It was a joking thing; they were using it to demonstrate for that year as an example. They had a little seventh grade boy. They recorded this and showed it at morning meeting to the whole school. They did that every year. Every senior class would have a ‘Don’t step on the senior patio’ video.”
What do you think this means?
“It is a just a privilege that has to be earned. It is embedded in tradition, it has been carried on since the schools founding many decades ago. It is an initiation for senior year. It kicks off senior year. Everyone is really excited and they feel really accomplished. Its something you have been longing for three years and the anticipation has been built up.”
Who generally tells this story?
“Seniors will generally tell you this story. Any upperclassman when you come in as a freshman.”
This story shows a unique way that a community determines maturity. We can see that the patio distinguishes the mature, older group from the younger kids. The passing of the lawn represents that the younger group have finally reached a level of maturity and an age deserving of this important lawn. The informant made the lawn appear to be a facet in the “coolness” of being older, a prize to work towards throughout high school. The lawn and patio signify an important turning of age for this informant.
“Ok. So when I was in elementary school, there was this myth that you went in the bathroom, turned off the light, spinned around three times fast, and looked in the mirror, chant Bloody Mary three times, you would see Bloody Mary. And Bloody Mary was this fictitious ghost.”
What did she do?
“She would just appear in the mirror. She was a scary ghost looking thing and she had red eyes.”
Did you ever do this ritual yourself?
Did she appear to you?
“So here’s the thing. I think there is some biology behind this. If you spin around three times really fast and you look straight, your vision is all kind of blurry, so you do see some kind of image. And when all of the other younger girls were there, it was Bloody Mary! In actuality, it was an after image.”
Who told you this story?
“It was told amongst the little girls. Like they wanted to go to the bathroom and try this out. This was elementary school. Second or third grade. We should go do it now haha.”
What do you see as the significance?
“Looking back on it, it resembles my childhood and all of the imagination it used to have. It was a happy carefree time in my life with my friends, … and Bloody Mary haha.”
I agree with the informant that Bloody Mary usually marks a period in childhood because it is frequently performed by youths. The story represents the imagination and fear found in children and the eagerness to perform such rituals to become part of a group.
For another version of Bloody Mary, please visit: (note a similar mention of Bloody Mary’s distinct eyes)
Wirawan, Anita. “Faces In The Mirror: The True Story Behind Bloody Mary – Anita’s Notebook.” Anita’s Notebook. N.p., 14 Aug. 2012. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.
“So Chinese women typically wear red wedding dresses because it symbolizes good luck … happiness and good fortune. Also it signifies a prosperous marriage.”
When did you first learn of this tradition?
“I first learned about this tradition when flipping through old photo books of my grandpa’s wedding to my grandma. My grandma was wearing a bright red dress and I asked my dad why, and he told me that it symbolized good fortune for the marriage.”
Will you personally follow in this tradition?
“Personally, I will probably stick to the American tradition of a white or ivory dress because I grew up in America.”
What does this story mean to you?
I” personally, directly I don’t have the tradition, and I’m probably not going to follow it when I get married, but knowing that my adoptive family has been following the tradition of wearing the red dresses really roots me to where I was adopted from. I was adopted from Southern China.”
Who usually talks about this story?
“Mainly my dad’s side of the family who are all Chinese Americans. Every time someone is married, there is a child born, or Chinese New Years it just intertwines with traditions in general and we usually talk about it then. Red is a very prominent color in Chinese culture because it represents good fortune.”
I’ve heard a lot of references about the color red symbolizing good fortune in Asian culture, but I was surprised to find out how interwoven it is into some of the Chinese traditions. The story of the red wedding dress demonstrates the informant’s connection to her Chinese background. While she does not think that she will follow in this tradition, the informant still values the history and family connection to the dress color. The red wedding dress also symbolizes an initiation into maturity, and granting good luck in this process of marriage. I also think it is unique that her adopted family and her biological family all have connections to this tradition.
Freshman-Senior brawl: at the end of each year, the senior boys and freshman boys gather in the schools old gym (this tradition is unknown by the school’s faculty) to have an unofficial freshman-senior brawl to celebrate the moving up of freshman to sophomores and the graduation of seniors moving on from the school. “I do this to you so you can do this to freshman some day.” The idea is that freshmen are hated for being new, young, and naïve and this is the last chance for them to be bullied before they are no longer freshmen. The seniors sort of intentionally go easy on the freshman because they’re 18, whereas the freshmen are 14.
Information & Context:
My informant for this piece is a student at the University of Southern California who graduated from the boarding school (Cate) from which this tradition originates. His knowledge of the tradition dates back between 3 and 11 years ago, though it is reasonable that it has existed for longer.
It is curious to me that a ceremony of physical violence can be viewed as a positive thing. My informant explained to me that it was seen as a right of passage—after which, both parties move up in the world. I would point out that both parties would move up, regardless of the ceremony, but it is important to note that this is how the community reacts to such a passage. It becomes a “you get bullied now so you get the right to bully later” type of scenario.
The celebration of a baby’s first birthday in particular is widely practiced across the world, as infant and child mortality rates were much higher in previous eras. In the eastern Asian regions, this traditional celebration includes a ceremony where the objects are placed in front of the baby and good things are said about the baby’s future based on the grabbed object. In my native South Korea, the objects typically associated with the occasion are books, writing tools and money. Other objects – even microphones and calculators – can also be used in the celebration, though that depends on how traditional the practitioner wants the celebration to be.
The informant is my uncle, who recently celebrated the first birthday of his twin sons. He first learned of the tradition in childhood, then through from his mother and grandmother. As a celebration for his sons, the performance of this tradition was of a personal importance to him. I was unable to attend the celebration in person, but I was able to ask the informant about it during spring break.
According to the informant, he placed a pencil, a book, money and a ball of strings – traditionally included symbols/items – on the table, but he also placed modern picks: a computer mouse and a basketball. The traditional symbols refer to a future in education, academics, riches and healthy life, respectively. The informant said that his contemporary additions represented “technological savvy” and “athleticism”. In the end, both his children picked up the pencil and the informant wishfully said that he was “happy he shouldn’t have to worry about their [the twins'] grades”.
It can be observed that the practice of traditional celebrations sees variation based on the practitioner, as do works of folklore in general. Though it is entirely up to choice to follow tradition or not, the informant’s use of contemporary objects to update the objects to be grabbed by the baby show that celebrations can be altered to be contemporary yet not taking away from the traditional meaning of celebration.
To see the traditional Chinese version of this tradition, see “To Catch the First Year” in the Folklore Archives
When living in Australia I had created a punk-rock band with a few friends. Eventually we became fairly successful and toured around. As time went on, some of the band members were replaced, but the drummer and myself stuck around. We began to take the whole thing very seriously over time and decided that we were sick of replacing members so we created this absurd initiation process to see who was going to be the most dedicated. The process went something like this: At first we’d just get to know the potentials – heard them play, listen to their old bands music, talk about music, get drinks, check out some concerts. Then we started giving them all these sorts of tasks to do, like errands, phone calls and other random shit we seriously didn’t think anyone would do. We then pushed it to something a bit more extreme where we told them to get on our friends tractor with us in the middle of the night and drive through the forest. We then had other friends dressed in gorilla costumes who’d throw balls at us from the trees. They’d then pop out of the trees and attack us, of course going easy on the prospect so that he could try to save us. Eventually we’d reveal this was a joke and after a moment of shock and anger, the prospect would just laugh about it. One time though one of the prospects thought they were real gorillas, not just some jack asses trying to pick a fight, and he started to go kung fu on these guys. One of friends had a rib broken so we of course stopped the thing. We ended up getting 3 dedicated band members from it. They were with us to the end of the band days. Starting out though we didn’t seriously think anyone would stick around for the initiation. Punk music breeds some dedicated lokes.
About the Informant
The informant is a freelance construction worker who grew up in both American and Australia. While in Australia he played in a punk rock band for 6 years. He also became a father 12 years ago. Since then he’s been constantly leaning about the pervading sub cultures and rituals for children that were non existent or drastically different from his formative years.
I see this as a testament to the value of having one invest a great deal into something before having them join in order to create sustaining commitment. Sort of like what a fraternity does. And it is when these sorts of things work that long standing folkloric initiations come to be. This is definitely a bit much for just joining a band, but it clearly fixed their problem.