I: Before you graduate, you’re supposed to like streak through some part of the Yard, have sex in the library– the library sex– and pee on the Harvard statue’s foot. And then I heard there’s a fourth where you’re supposed to jump in the river, but like I don’t know…
Me: What’s the statue?
I: Pee on the statue’s foot– like it’s so gross because the statue’s foot looks a little different… and like, tourists touch it? It’s supposed to be like a lucky thing, but they don’t know that people are peeing on it! It’s so gross (laughing).
Me: What’s the statue called?
I: Oh John Harvard statue. And it’s like yellow…like it’s a different color than the rest of the statue and like people touch it (shuddering).
Me: Do you have to do all of these things right before you graduate?
I: I think just at some point during college, like you could knock them all out freshmen year if you wanted to.
My informant is a good friend from high school. She’s a freshman at Harvard University, where she was able to attend in-person during the pandemic. She learned about this tradition through her roommate, whose brother graduated from Harvard in 2020. She says that her roommate’s brother peed on the statue and went streaking, but didn’t complete the other activities. Because of the pandemic, she has still been pretty isolated, so she hasn’t met many seniors and wouldn’t know people who performed this ritual. She tells me that she would not do this tradition.
This is a transcript of a conversation between my friend and me over the phone. We were talking about ethnic traditions before his conversation until I asked her if she knew any folklore from her school, which reminded her of this tradition.
This tradition, or ritual, of university seniors performing a series of rebellious or profane acts (from the institution’s point of view), is indicative of the liminal period. In this period of liminality, university seniors are straddling two different identities, and are close to a state of being identity-less. They are not quite university students anymore, yet they may not have acquired an “adult” job in the “real world” yet either. This liminal period can thus be filled with feelings of freedom, but also tension from being identity-less. Pranks and rebellious acts can then be a way to resolve and alleviate this stress. Streaking in public on campus, peeing on the statue of an authority figure, and having sex in a taboo place on campus can be both freeing, as students are disregarding university rules and methods of alleviating tension.