“Senior Ditch Day at Gilroy High School is a day when seniors at the end of the year all ditch school on the same day. All the seniors would know that it was going to happen every year, so they would figure out a date that would work and spread the word around by word of mouth. We would try to make sure it was after prom and Advanced Placement tests, because a lot of the students were AP students. And it had to be after prom because we didn’t want them to take away our prom privileges. So, we’d do something rebellious after. A lot of the teachers knew. They would try to prevent it. Or give little speeches about why we shouldn’t ditch. Some teachers, if they were cool with it, wouldn’t assign as much work on that day, but some teachers would assign a quiz that day to get back at the kids who were ditching. A lot of kids would go to the same place. We went to the beach, everyone together. Half the teachers didn’t assign work, because it was just this unspoken thing that half the kids weren’t going to be there. A lot of the parents know it’s happening. Some of them are cool with it. Some aren’t. It really depends on the parents. Some kids got their parents to write them sick letters. Other kids forged their letters. But I mean, when kids are seniors… it’s the end of the year. You feel like you’re at the top of the class. You reached that point of prestige that you were trying to reach for four years. It’s kind of us deciding that we deserve a break. It’s kind of a fun thing to do. And it brings the class together. It brings us together as seniors. There’s prom first of all, and then there’s AP tests, and we’d do it after so we didn’t have to be worried and stressing about our tests. It’s kind of a national thing, an American thing. I guess. Lots of high schools in America do it. You see it in movies, people talk about it a lot of the time. It’s like how prom and football are staples of high school. It’s Senior Ditch Day, one of those traditions.”
I believe my informant was largely correct in her analysis of the importance of Senior Ditch Day. After finishing their tests and prom, the students feel like they have completed high school, although they still have to attend classes and learn. They are almost in a liminal period–though technically still students, they feel as though they are only waiting for graduation to make that official. Senior Ditch Day allows them to demonstrate this. By not going to school, they are saying that they do not need school anymore. Although some students try to avoid being too defiant (getting excused from the day of classes rather than accepting the punishment of having skipped a day of school), it does not seem to be a deterrent if they are not able to provide an excuse for their absence. Neither avoiding punishment nor blatantly breaking the rules is the goal. The students are focused on the bonding experience of being together and not being at school, rather than trying to openly defy teachers and administrators. Though presented as rule-breaking, the focus of and enjoyment caused by Senior Ditch Day does not seem to actually be on breaking the rules, but on the ability of the students to make the decision for themselves that school, for that day, is optional. They are, in some way, proving their coming adulthood by demonstrating the ability to make decisions for themselves that are normally made by adults.
Incidences of Senior Ditch Day can also be seen referenced in the following article in the Tampa Bay Times: http://www.sptimes.com/2006/04/14/Citytimes/Life_s_a_beach_for_ma.shtml.