USC Digital Folklore Archives / Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cigars on Graduation Day

Informant: Sebastian Williamson. 21 years old. Born in Mexico. My brother and USC student.

Informant:“Sophomore year of high school I went to a boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire. One of the traditions at St. Paul’s is that when the seniors graduate they smoke cigars on the lawn after receiving their diplomas. I had never seen this ritual before. I remember seeing the seniors smoking cigars with their fellow graduates, taking pictures with their parents, and showing off their diplomas. A friend explained to me that the father buys the cigar—usually an expensive one—to signify a rite of passage into adulthood. Some of the teachers are not too happy with this tradition as smoking is prohibited on campus, yet this tradition is an exception. It has been such an old tradition in boarding schools that the administration accepts it. It is really a symbol of maturity and the next chapter in one’s life. I left boarding school after that year and finished high school in Mexico. When I graduated, I actually decided to smoke a cigar. Even though I was only at St. Paul’s school for one year, I wanted to bring a part of that experience to my graduation in Mexico. HA! What’s funny is that the school’s principal told me I couldn’t smoke so I just took several pictures.”

Thoughts: The cigar ritual at boarding schools is very traditional and old. Just like my brother, I went to boarding school but actually graduated from there. After receiving my diploma, I went to the lawn and smoked a cigar with my friends. This tradition of smoking cigars after graduation is a good example of a ritual done in order to enter into adulthood. Interestingly, my father didn’t buy me the cigar as I never told him about the tradition so I had to find an extra one from a friend. My brothers experience is really unique. His decision to smoke the cigar in Mexico was more about wanting to keep in touch with his boarding school tradition and I thought it was a great idea. In Mexico, since this tradition does not exist it makes sense that the administration got mad.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fraternity Song

Informant: Jimmy Lonergan. 21 years old. From Chicago. Student at USC and member of a fraternity.

“When I joined a fraternity this song really spoke to the values I hope to live and abide by. When I came to USC, I really wanted to join a fraternity due to the powerful experience of brotherhood. I come from a big family—five siblings—and I really wanted to have brothers throughout my college career. We sing this song after Monday Dinner and during chapter, all the brothers stand in a circle, lock their arms together, and sing in unison while moving from side to side:

Our strong band can ne’er be broken

Formed in ole Phi Psi

Far surpassing wealth unspoken

Sealed by friendship’s tie


Amici, usque ad aras

(“Friendship, ongoing until death”)

Deep graven on each heart

Shall be found unwav’ring true

When we from life shall part


College life at best is passing

Gliding swiftly by

Let us pledge in word and action

Love for old Phi Psi”


Thoughts: The lyrics really emphasize the importance of friendship, pledging, brotherhood, and a sacred bond. Truly, a fraternity tries to emulate these values and as Jimmy said it is the brotherhood that drew him to the fraternity. This fraternity song reminds me of the Declaration of Independence. In the Declaration of Independence, it says: “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Fraternities are very old American organizations whose founders were inspired by the same values this country was founded upon. Truly, the song encapsulates a similar sentiment that is portrayed in the Declaration of Independence.


An Extra Birthday Candle

Informant: The informant is a twenty-two-year-old named Samantha. She graduated from Providence College last year and is currently working in New York City as an Advertising Sales Assistant for VERANDA Magazine. She lives in Yonkers, New York with her parents and has lived there for her whole life. She is of Italian, English, and Russian descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat next to each other on the living room floor at her house in Yonkers, New York during my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: I learned that you when celebrating someone’s birthday, you always need to have one more candle than necessary on the birthday cake. This candle has to be left unlit. I learned this from her grandma. For kids, this extra candle is one to grow on, so it symbolizes the hope that they will grow big and strong in the following year. On the other hand, for adults, this extra candle is for a long life and luck.

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because it’s a family tradition. It reminds me of my childhood because I always had an extra candle on her birthday cakes. Also, this concept always excites children who want to grow and become big and strong. As an adult now, I likes the idea of having this candle to promise a lucky year. I definitely plan to pass this tradition on to my children one day.

Personal Thoughts: This tradition is interesting to me because it highlights the fact that superstitions and traditions in general are not only for children; they are important to adults too. While kids love the idea of growing up to be big and strong, adults do not easily forget such traditions they celebrated growing up. They keep the tradition alive by changing its meaning to something which they want in their lives no matter how old they are- good luck in the next year.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jumping the Broom at Weddings

Informant: The informant is Briana, a nineteen-year-old freshman at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Vacaville, California, in the Bay Area, and has lived there for her entire life, until she moved to Los Angeles for college. She is of African descent.

Context of the performance: This performance was done while we were sitting on the grass outside of our dorm building on USC’s campus- Arts and Humanities at Parkside.

Original Script:

Informant: So, at weddings, African Americans have a tradition of the newlywed spouses jumping over a broom after they say their vows. Basically, someone brings a broom up to the altar so that when the spouses are leaving, they have to jump over it to exit the ceremony area, whether it’s a church or not. It’s supposed to represent sweeping your past behind you, whether that was any issues you had dating or just your past as single people.Your lives as single people are behind you, and you enter into your relationship as a married couple and your new, shared life together.

Interviewer: Who taught you about this ritual?

Informant: My grandmother told me this when I was in middle school.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: I think it’s cool because it’s a tradition that’s been done for a long time. Also, my mom and dad did it, and so I want to do it. I would keep the broom, personally, and I would show my kids. It would be really sentimental for them to see it.

Personal Thoughts: I enjoyed hearing about this ritual because I, personally, have never been to a wedding. However, I do know that my family does not follow this tradition, so it was quite interesting to learn about. At first, I was confused as to why the couple would step over a broom, but, with Briana’s explanation, the ritual totally makes sense. It is also interesting that she knew the reasoning behind this piece of folklore because many people who observe or participate in folklore do not know about its true message.

Folk Beliefs

Curse of Dudleytown

Informant is a teacher living in LA.

The story is one from a  summer camp in CT where he and I met originally. The subject of the story is a town called “Dudleytown” which suffers a horrible curse: every 7 years, somebody nearby dies.

“So Dudleytown as you know, is haunted. Every seven years, somebody nearby dies. That’s because Edward Dudley was cursed by King Henry for treason, and the curse followed him across the Atlantic Ocean and caused all their crops to die. Now, nobody’s growing crops there anymore. But the curse still comes up once every seven years……. some things just stick with the location geographically, you know?”

He says he heard the story from other people at the camp when he first got there, as the location was relatively close by. He swears it is real and true but he does so with an air of silliness, indicating to me that this belief is faux-sincerity. I think this choosing-to-believe makes sense: people like the strong narrative of a 7-year-curse more than they want to “ruin the fun” in applying logic. It’s a fun belief and brings people together over a common fear, even if it is just pretend.



Bongcheong-Dong Ghost

Background: My informant was a young Filipino girl who was born and raised in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She currently is a student at the University of Minnesota studying Double B.A. Global Studies and Cultural Studies.

Performance Context: According to my informant, the story was told to her by her two friends who are of Chinese and Vietnamese descent. However, she claims that it is a fairly common and famous online example of Korean comics on the internet, especially in horror circles.

Main Piece: The story is based on the 2002 suicide of a woman in South Korea. It is a comic that tells a ghost story supposedly based on true stories about the ghost of this woman who haunts an apartment complex in Bongcheong-Dong. According to the informant and the comic, the woman supposedly killed herself because she was being separated from her daughter due to divorce. In the story, a young girl is on her way home as she heads to the apartment complex. Along the way she encounters a strange otherworldly woman whose joints seem “twisted every way”. The woman demands that the girl tell her where her “baby” is, upon which the girl, too scared to know what else to do, points a random direction to send the woman. The woman then goes off in the direction that the girl points. The girl tries to run away at this point, but soonafter hears a scream from the direction of the woman, having discovered that nothing was in that direction. The woman quickly rushes the girl, and the girl awakens to find out that her neighbors found her passed out.

The comic is interwoven with two jump scares and sound in order to complete the experience.

To the informant, she wonders whether this story is really based on true stories. It seems to be derivative, but according to her, the story was made for a contest. This puts into question the authenticity of the stories origin and whether or not it had actually come from oral traditions. The suicide is supposedly real, and the rumors of the spirit seem to be true, but if they were not, it would not be hard for my informant to believe.

My informant is mainly interested in the story because of how it is meant to be spread to others as a sort of game. It is a viral comic that you want to show your friends because then you can watch as they are horrified as well. It is a sort of bonding that is made by spreading the story. In some ways, the story works in the same regard as many oral campfire traditions in uniting and making connection with others through the oral act of storytelling.

My Thoughts: I think it is interesting because of the reasons that the informant explicitly stated. Storytelling is generally regarded as a form of communication and there is no reason that the discourse of that story cannot also be a way to communicate with others. The horror of the comic serves as a sort of initiation to a inner circle of those that have experienced it versus those that have not and whom can be spread to. There is a special bond formed through the esoteric knowledge of the experience.

Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

March of the Living

KM is a student at the University of Southern California studying architecture. She is from Encino, CA and has lived her whole life in Southern California. She comes from two Israeli parents and has a strong Jewish background as most of her family lives in Israel. She attended a private Jewish high school and learned Hebrew over the course of her school career. She actively participates in many holiday traditions and prayer rituals.

Is there any significant milestone other than a bat mitzva that you have in your young-adult life?

KM: Well when we graduate high school we go on a trip called March of the living where we basically tour all the concentration camps in Europe and travel to meet with others Jews who do it as well. Every year the graduating class at Jewish schools across the world do it and other Jewish organizations do it as well.

How is did that experience or tradition effect you?

KM: It was an amazing experience and it changed my life and my view on my heritage as a Jewish-American. Going to the concentration camps made me very emotional because many of my ancestors went through that experience in WWII. I think that it gave me a better perspective on how close our Jewish community is as well. When we got to meet Jewish people from all over the world and talk to them about our religion it was very comforting that we found solace in other people.

What was the most influential part of the trip?

KM: I think it was the march in general and especially when we went through the forest that people had to walk through or labor in where many people died. The trees were narrow and if someone walked more than 5 yards ahead they would disappear completely which was a scary thing to see how easily one could get lost or run off but they couldn’t for fear of being killed. Also, many people were killed out there which made the silence of the walk eerie and something I will never forget.


The march of the living is a very important trip for young Jewish people. The experience the true persecution of the holocaust and it is extremely eye-opening for most of them. I think it is a week where they focus on their culture and also connecting with others who share the same cultural identity and history. It is a tradition that is a bit newer but, still has had a dramatic effect on Jewish people around the world.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Full Moon on the Quad at Stanford

My mom went to graduate school at Stanford. This is her interpretation of the “Full Moon On the Quad” Tradition:

Mom:”The original tradition holds that if you are a freshman girl at Stanford, you are not really a Stanford woman until you’ve been kissed by a senior under the full moon on the quad. For decades the story was often told, but the occurrences of these kisses would happen spontaneously – or not. Individual girls would report their initiation into Stanford womanhood with a mix of scandal and pride.”

Me: But is there an actual event where people meet on the Quad?

Mom:”These days, it has become an organized thing. Throngs of upperclassmen wait on the quad while scores of freshman females arrive to be kissed, and kissed again and again by a steady stream of upper class students– most of them strangers. This happens on the first full moon of the fall quarter.There are monitors to insure that consent is being given, there are express lanes for gay, straight, and bisexual preferences and there are even health center advocates who distribute mouthwash to help kill infectious viruses and bacteria being passed mouth to mouth.”

Me: Did you ever think this was an odd tradition for a prestigious school like Stanford to uphold?

Mom: “Yes. There was a saying when I went to Stanford that Stanford women were all either boobless brains or else brainless boobs. (If they were smart they were ugly and vice versa) What an astonishingly sexist tradition. Yet maybe it is no surprise that this is the elite school that also fostered an environment that taught Brock Turner to see rape as an extension of fun and games.”

Analysis: I agree with my mom in that it surprised me to learn that this tradition still exists at Stanford. I wonder how it will change in this generation- where gender, and being a “Stanford woman” may be harder to define. At one point in time, this tradition represented the idea that women must be verified in order to hold some validity on campus. I think that to be a genuine Stanford woman, a person should simply be enrolled at the school.


For more on the Full Moon on the Quad Tradition:

Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Pull- Hope College

My brother went to a small liberal arts college in Holland Michigan. He remembers “The Pull” vividly:

Skye: The Pull is a tradition that goes back 117 years. Every fall the sophomores challenge the freshman to a gladiatorial variation of tug of war. It takes place across the Black River. 16 men on each team, 16 women serving as the callers of the cadence and in charge of “morale”. The teams train for weeks, they shave their heads, and they put on war paint. They run throughout the campus carrying the heavy thick ropes. Trenches are dug, with footrests of dirt mounded up. The pullers will lie in the trenches to pull as they push their feet against the dirt mounds. The actual day of the pull thousands come from throughout the region to watch along either side of the river. There is a lot of guttural shouting and cheering. Mud is generated.”

Me: How long does it last?

Skye: “A typical pull goes on for approximately 3 hours before one of the teams is pulled into the river. There have been years when the exertion has gone on for over 14 hours. More recent years have brought rules that allow for the pull to end at three hours even if no one has been pulled into the river yet. The teams go by the names “Odd” and “Even” corresponding to the class year.”

Analysis: In a very conservative, Christian area of the Midwest, emotions are often kept inside and the behavior is quite circumspect. The Pull stands in stark contrast to this buttoned-up way of life in Holland, Michigan. Hope College prides itself on the purity and mild attitudes of its students. A loud and seemingly violent event like The Pull is and anachronism at this Conservative Christian Dutch College.150926PullOddYear020


Korean 1st Birthday


Dahbin is a Korean man from Portland, Oregon whose parents are, as he puts it, “extremely conservative Koreans who take traditions weirdly and annoyingly seriously.”

Original Script:

Dahbin: “A Korean’s first birthday is, like, a huge deal. Like, it goes on for five days. In the past, Korea was extremely poor, so most babies would not live to see their first birthday. So, like, in Korea, when you’re born you are considered a one year old already because they want to be able to say that the baby lived at least for one year before it died. Basically, a Korean’s first birthday is more like a huge party, almost like a five day bar mitzvah (laughs).”


When a Korean turns one year old.

My Thoughts:

I like how the Koreans have taken such a sad phenomenon of their past and turned it into such a positive celebration in the present. Growing up in Korea years ago must have been extremely difficult, but nowadays they celebrate the lives of the living children by making their first birthdays such a great spectacle. This tradition truly puts life into perspective, showing me just how lucky I was to have grown up in such a great place.