USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘graduation’
Customs
general

Exchanging Senior Portraits – A High School Custom

Item:

Q: Did you take prom pictures?

T: Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Oh! Exchanging pictures, that’s something people do, like prom pictures and senior pictures.

Q: Why do people exchange senior pictures?

T: Oh bro Ion’ know. I actually don’t know. Like… like… cause yenno people, like, write little notes on the back of it?

Q: Mhmm.

T: And it’s just, memories I guess.

Q: So did you learn about exchanging them when you started high school or what?

T: I didn’t even know!

Q: You didn’t know until you were a senior that people exchanged senior portraits?

T: I did but, like, I didn’t know, like, my freshman year.

Q: Oh, so, when did you figure out then?

T: Like…

Q: When I was a senior?

T: Ion’ know, probably. Most likely. I didn’t really talk to people.

 

Context:

This piece was collected from a high school student, denoted by ‘T’.  I inquired about any high school lore she knew about, and when she couldn’t think of any, we changed topics.  Later on in the conversation, she was prompted by my question about prom pictures to mention this custom.  Though she did not have much insight into the custom which she describes, I will provide further information on it in the following section.  The informant has attended the same school that I graduated from in Hawaii for all of high school and will be graduating this May.  As seen in the conversation above, she most likely learned the custom of exchanging senior portraits from when I approached graduation at the end of senior year and began preparing portraits to give to my teachers and friends.  The informant also mentions how she is especially aware of this custom now that it is her turn to partake in it; her peers have already begun taking casual pictures to use and she spoke to me about how she wants one of her friends to take her portraits as well.  The informant seems to primarily take this custom as just another one of those things high school seniors do before graduation, and as she said in the exchange, something you do “for the memories”.

 

Additional Personal Notes:

I can elaborate more on this custom, having participated in it myself when I graduated high school.  It should be noted that prom photos are exchanged as well between high school students, which may have reminded the informant about the exchange of senior portraits.  Photos from formal dances, including proms and winter formals, are generally exchanged amongst all grade levels; senior portraits, on the other hand, are exclusive to the graduating class.  They are commonly exchanged among graduating seniors and their closest friends (which may be other seniors or underclassmen), as well as their teachers and advisors, in the weeks leading up to graduation.  Oftentimes, the photo-givers would handwrite notes on the frames of portraits before giving them out, typically something along the lines of a thank you message or a good luck message.  I learned this custom from having upperclassmen friends who graduated before me; some of them gave me their portraits as well.  This custom is most commonly passed on through connections with graduating seniors, like if you received one as an underclassman for example.  In addition, some teachers would also display their collection of portraits from students in their classrooms, so students would be able to learn about this custom through that as well.

 

Analysis:

Having also participated in this custom when I graduated high school, my analysis of its significance has a personal bias because of the role it played for me during this time.  Since it is temporally exclusive to the weeks leading up to graduation and exclusive to members of the graduating class, I believe the custom of exchanging senior portraits is about reinforcing social relationships in a time of changing identity.  Although a student’s plans after high school may be solidified by this time, and she may spend her last few weeks enjoying time with her peers, there still remains a level of anxiety – particularly pertaining to her social relationships she has built throughout high school as a familiar environment is left behind for the uncertainty of life after graduation.   As such, exchanging senior portraits is a material way of reinforcing certain social relationships before they are tested, especially because they are selectively exchanged among friends.  Giving a friend your senior portrait is essentially communicating “I remember you” and “I want you to remember me”.  Furthermore, in the age of digital media, a tangible portrait literally holds more weight than merely texting each other photos.  In the case of exchanging with teacher or advisors, the senior portraits serve a similar purpose of reinforcing these social relationships because you would give them to your favorite and/or most influential teachers as a thank you and final goodbye.  As such, giving out senior portraits is, in fact, about the memories of the social relationships you built during high school and reinforcing them before you make the transition into adulthood.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations

USC High Dive: Graduation Tradition

Main Piece:

Jumping off the high dive at the USC Aquatic Center before you graduate

Informant: Apparently you have to jump off the high dive before you graduate from USC. It’s in the aquatic center and it’s like 30 or 40 feet high in the air. You’re supposed to like go break in or something late at night and just go do it. I haven’t done it yet, though.

Background: The informant is a sophomore here at USC. This piece was recorded in person at her apartment. She has yet to jump off the high dive, neither have her friends. The informant said she had learned of this tradition even before arriving on campus freshman year. A potential roommate who she had met over Facebook had told her of this tradition. The informant was apathetic towards this tradition. It was clear that completion of this task was not on her to-do list.

Context: For every single college and university, there are a myriad of “before you graduate” traditions like this one. Some schools value these traditions more so than others. Going off this conversation, it seems as if this tradition isn’t taken very seriously.

Analysis: I am interested in the origin of this tradition. Immediately I was drawn to the very literal relationship between leaping off the high dive and “taking the leap” out of your comfort zone and into the working world. Personally I had not heard of this tradition before this conversation. Additionally, I can think of another reason for the development of this tradition. USC athletics is quite possibly what this school is known for. As such, the department has separated itself from the non-athlete student body. Regular students can not use the facilities managed by USC Athletics. Possibly, this tradition arose as a sort of reclamation act for non-athletes here at USC. In breaking into and using USC Athletic facilities without their knowledge, non-athletes could be taking a subtle jab at the department as a whole.

Folk Beliefs

The Princeton Gate Superstition

Content:
Informant – “The lore is that you can only go through the gate once as a Freshman and you can only leave through the gate as a senior or you won’t graduate.”

JK – “So how do you get onto the campus then?”

Informant – “This is just the main gate. There are other gates.”

Context:
Informant – “I heard it on an official college tour.”

Analysis:
When you are college student, your campus can feel like your whole world. You can lose track of the outside world and become totally immersed in your college’s culture. This superstition is an exaggeration of that feeling. You enter this new world as a freshman, and then you are trapped there until you graduate. Passing through the gate before graduation is like leaving the world too early (i.e. not graduating).

Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Senior Sendoff at Bentonville High School

Abstract:

This piece is about Bentonville High School’s senior sendoff tradition that involved a spirit group called the Men in Black.

Main Piece:

“C: How about from your hometown or high school? Do you guys have any traditions or anything?

S: Oh yeah, okay so… Yeah we had a couple. Our senior sendoff was different. So we had two buildings at our high school and there was this road that divides them in the middle. So what would happen is, I was in this group called the Men in Black.

C: Like the movies?

S: Well, my high school was 4,200 kids. So a very big high school and there was a group of about 10 or 15 senior boys every year that would lead spirit things and student section things.

C: Oh so like the spirit club?

S: Yeah, but we were like badass. That was us. Like everyone knew that we were cool. Like we were the cool guys. So what would happen is, everyone would bring their cars to that middle part for senior sendoff and the Men in Black would be on top of the cars leading everything. And then all the seniors would gather around and the underclassmen would watch from the outside. And then you count down and then people would go crazy honking the horns and everything. It’s this huge thing.”

Context:

The informant is a 20 year old from Bentonville, Arkansas and has a lot of school spirit. He was a member of the Men in Black throughout high school and participated in the senior sendoffs at his school.

Analysis:

Any kind of senior sendoff tradition is significant because it signifies the start of a new time in one’s life. It is a milestone that most American students cross at some point and they are often made special due to the significance of the event. I think one interesting aspect of this piece and the experience is that it is led by a spirit group that calls themselves the Men in Black. In the movies, the purpose of the Men in Black are to have people who witness aliens forget their experience. Though in this senior sendoff, it seems that they are trying to make it as memorable as possible.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Material

Wall Quotes at HB Woodlawn

Abstract:

This piece is about painted wall quotes from graduating seniors at a high school in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.

Main Piece: (L is the informant and I is the interviewer)

“L: At my school when you become a senior and you’re graduating, you get to write a quote on the wall. In your group.

I: In your group?

L: In your, like, age group. Like the 2005’s. Or the graduates of the 2005’s.

I: What school do you go to?

L: HB Woodlawn in Arlington, VA.

I: Why do you guys get to do this?

L: Um, to have like your message to the school. So people can look at it. It’s not necessary to look at, but it’s not hidden away in a yearbook.”

Context:

The informant is a 13 year old girl who attends a middle/high school in Arlington Virginia called HB Woodlawn. She started attending the school in 6th grade and plans to graduate from the school as well. The school is small in comparison to the other local public high schools and can only be attended through a lottery system. The school is known as the “Hippie” School because of it’s nonchalant rules and artistic programs that other schools in the area do not have. This senior tradition at HB Woodlawn allows students to leave a quote or message painted on the walls of the school for future students to read, instead of having a yearbook quote.

Analysis:

Leaving your mark at this school reminds me of graffiti and leaving messages in that way as well. Since the school is artistic and focuses heavily on creative ideals, it makes sense to me that they would have this unconventional way of leaving senior quotes. In a way, this version of senior quotes allows for more students to view the messages over the years. For example, if you are a freshman looking at a yearbook, you will only see the quotes of the seniors from that particular year. You would miss out on the quotes from seniors in the years before you entered the school. However, in this version of senior quotes, you will see the quotes on the walls for years and years.

 

 

Adulthood
Initiations

Kairos

JH is a senior at an all-boys Catholic high school in La Canada Flintridge, CA. He lives in Pasadena, CA.

JH talked to me about a school retreat he just went on, which they host every year:

“We have a different retreat every year, but the senior retreat is called ‘Kairos’…we spend like the last week of classes at a center near Santa Barbara, but they don’t really tell us where we’re going…we just left after school one day. It’s pretty religious-based and we talked a lot about God and the Catholic Church and stuff, but more of it was spiritual, like we talked about our personal relationship with God and spirituality and stuff. On the second day they surprised us with letters from our parents, and both of our parents had to write us a letter with stuff they may not have told us or with like, things they wanted us to know…some people got letters from siblings too, and they mostly talked about how we’re at an important transition in our lives, talking about becoming an adult and stuff. And then we all had to share a lot too, and people talked about really awful things that had happened in their past that we had no idea about, and our teachers and the priests did too…I think we all got a lot closer, opening up like that…I wasn’t expecting to really buy into the whole retreat thing, but I think I learned a lot in the end. When we got back, they led us into the auditorium where all our parents were sitting, and they were cheering for us, and we went and sat up on stage where they talked a little about the week, and then we all had to go up to the microphone and talk about our experiences that week, and then we would go and sit with our parents.”

I asked JH if he felt it was more of a religious retreat or a school/class retreat:

“Definitely more about our class than religion. The religion was a big part of it, but even just going to a Catholic school they were never necessarily trying to convert us or anything, and they were really inclusive both at the retreat and at the school like in general.”

My analysis:

A lot of high schools that have the resources put on these “retreats” for their students, especially at the end of senior year, or the end of their high school career. It helps usher these students through the liminal period, or help them slow down and understand the importance of the transition they’re in the midst of, and by emphasizing parental involvement JH’s school highlights the community aspect, where families would play a big role in celebrating the child’s transition to adulthood. This is actually the first kind of retreat I’d heard of that gave parents such a role – usually it revolves more around the school’s influence and presence in the students’ lives.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Great Norwegian Graduation Rager

“So in Norway, when we graduate high school, we have this tradition that the two weeks leading up to our, um, independence day, um, we essentially do college in two weeks. And by that we, uh, everyone essentially has like a startup company where they fund, they get money and they work and they buy a bus. And this bus is to represent a group of people that have together to party on this bus for these two coming weeks. You build this bus to represent you as a group. So you paint it, you have your own song. They usually spend about twenty to forty thousand dollars on these buses. And they pay a couple to three thousand dollars per song or more. People live off this shit. They graduate high school and they just make music for these crazy graduating students. And they have a pretty decent life. Umm, so what you do is you do this and then you buy a suit, you buy like overalls that are completely red and covered in the Norwegian flag, and it’s got different colors. That’s the only time that you’ll ever see these colors in Norway which is why I find it so baffling that people in America keep wearing and wearing their flag everywhere. I guess it’s like weird, it’s like nationalism, which is bad, but for these two weeks in Norway: totally cool. So everyone gets drunk, everyone has sex with each other, there’s a bunch of STD things going on and like a lot of people take precautions so there’s just condoms everywhere in the capital for those two weeks, literally just so that teenagers can just grab them passing by. They’ll be in like metro stations, bus stops, random places there’ll just be like a little cup of condoms because people are just like doing things all the time. So there’s a lot of drugs, a lot of drinking, and you kinda like, you do all of those, you get all your immaturity out. That’s the whole point of it. So by the time you have your independence day, everyone’s so fucking exhausted that when you actually celebrate the day  that you celebrate Independence Day  and that you celebrate your graduation, then finals happen. Afterwards. So it’s a big thing in Norway where people have been trying to get the finals to happen before these two weeks. Because what happens is a lot of, like,  not a lot, but  maybe one out  of twenty people failed their finals because of this tradition. Every year. So they’re trying to change that now. I think it’s going to change this year, but the fact that the government, that all entire Norway works around this insane tradition: just get fucked up and have sex for two weeks? It’s fucking fantastic.”

 

The source definitely looked upon this tradition with a lot of happiness. It seemed to be one of his favorite parts of high school. He said it’s not a very long-standing tradition, but that it’s definitely been around as long as he’s been alive. He says it’s a way for them to release all the pent up stress from the year. It allows them to let loose and do crazy things that, under other circumstances, wouldn’t be allowed.

This tradition seems to come with its own sort of hall pass. It sounds like the kind of thing that these kids would never get away with if only there weren’t so many of them participating in it. That’s probably how it came about in the first place. Some group of kids wanted to let loose, but they knew they’d get in trouble, so they got a whole bunch of people together and went nuts. It probably didn’t fly as much back when it started, but now that it’s mainstream, the whole country probably knows to expect this debauchery and just lets it slide.

What also makes it interesting is that it involves a lot of responsibility. It’s almost like a rite of passage, really, because these kids have to work and save up money in order to be able to afford this massive, two-week rager. They also need to plan and organize it all themselves. Basically, they’re doing very adult things in order to be able to do some very not adult things. Quite the contrast.

Adulthood
general
Initiations

Cigars on Graduation Day

Information on the Informant: The informant for this collection is my brother who currently is a Junior at Georgetown and studying Business. He plays football there and is very involved in Business clubs and intramural sports. He is an incredibly avid sports fan and follows football, baseball, basketball, and hockey very closely. He attended Loyola High school, the same school that I went to, which is an all-boys Jesuit school in downtown Los Angeles. While there he was the starting quarterback of the football team and also led numerous retreats while holding a position on student council.

The tradition from the informant:

“After every single graduation ceremony for the seniors at Loyola, it is an unwritten tradition for all the graduates to smoke a cigar after the diplomas are passed out. I don’t know why it started but it is mostly just a symbol of our next chapter in life, where we are older and more mature. It is one of those traditions where the younger students look at it as a sign of success because in order to do it you have to graduate. Some of the faculty aren’t too fond of it because it can be dangerous having hundreds of cigars lit up in a small area but all the students do it regardless because they all feel as if they deserve it.”

Analysis: This example of smoking cigars after a graduation, or an initiation into the next chapter of life, is a good example of a ritual done in order to enter into adulthood. Additionally, the tradition makes sense that it occurs at an all guys school because typically smoking cigars is something that guys enjoy more than girls do. Not to say that girls don’t smoke cigars but simply that it is typically done by men. Also, one other notable thing is that the cigars are usually fancy cigars that are purchased by the father’s of the sons who are smoking the cigars. The father buying the cigar is a symbol of initiation into adulthood after high school.

Customs
Life cycle

Kissing the Wall

Item:

Me: “Do people look for their specific lip marks when they come back?”

Informant: “Oh god no, it would be impossible to find them.”

In the informant’s ballet company, when a member was doing their last performance of a show (as in, your last ever Nutcracker performance), it was tradition to put on bright red lipstick and kiss a specific wall, leaving a mark. The mark not only signified you were a part of the show, but was symbolic of a part of you always being tied to the company. People would come back years after graduating to visit the wall they had kissed previously.

 

Context:

The informant was involved in ballet through most of her life and knows a lot about the secrets and traditions carried with being a part of a ballet company. She takes them all very seriously and indicates that most all of the other dancers did as well. According to the informant, everyone kissed the wall at some point as long as they were in the company for a full run of a show. The informant wasn’t clear about exactly when you kissed the wall — it was after the show, but not necessarily directly after completion. Additionally, the go-to action didn’t used to be kissing the wall. The tradition used to be signing it, but it got too messy, so the lip marks were the evolved method.

 

Analysis:

Perhaps the most interesting part of this piece of folklore is that the tradition changed from signing the wall to kissing it, for reason of “the signing got too messy,” according to the informant. It’s perhaps telling of how significant or deeply rooted a tradition is when the reason for completely changing it is one of rather minor inconvenience.

Customs
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fountain Run

My informant is a student USC and a member of the Greek community.  I asked him if he had any initiation stories or customs on the row or in his fraternity.  He chose to tell me about the Senior Fountain Run closely approaching.

Informant: The Senior Fountain Run happens every year at USC and it’s literally the entire Senior class running around the campus at night, drunk, and jumping in every fountain.

Me:  Why do you think this became a tradition?

Informant: I couldn’t tell you the real reason but its kind of one of those things I have always wanted to and the University lets us do it right before we leave. I mean we have like 20 fountains around campus that I walk by everyday, how could I not want to jump in?

Me: Ya makes sense, especially during these hot Spring days.  What are you looking forward to most, aside from finally jumping in those fountains of course.

Informant: Being drunk while I do it, haha, but I guess just seeing everyone that I haven’t seen in a long time, like friends from the dorms freshman year that I may not see anymore.  Probably gonna be a really nostalgic moment.

The fountain run tradition is one that has been long standing at USC and for good reason.  There is a non-spoken agreement between the students and staff that they can break the rules just this once to do something they have always wanted.  Its almost a gratuitous gesture by the University by thanking them and effectively saying, “you are about to leave, so we’ll bend the rules.”  The tradition certainly says a lot about the importance of the fountains to the students as well.

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