Tag Archives: college tradition

First Rain – A College Tradition

Background information/context of performance: DC is a 21-year-old student at University of Southern California, Santa Cruz. She grew up in Los Angeles and Alameda, CA, but is currently living in an apartment in Santa Cruz. Now that we’re back on campus, DC has been able to engage much more with UCSC culture and traditions.

DC: First Rain is another tradition that Santa Cruz has, but I think it’s the same for a lot of colleges. It still hasn’t happened this year though (laughs). Because it hasn’t even rained. It’s pretty sad, um, but I guess we still have a few weeks for it to happen.

Me: If there had been a first rain at UCSC this year, what would the tradition look like?

DC: It rains a lot in Santa Cruz usually. But a lot of students like to exercise by walking and running around campus, so maybe this came from that? I don’t know. But basically, like, whenever it rains on campus for the first time during the school year, everyone will run through campus naked. I think everyone runs from somewhere to Porter College, and the run ends there.

Me: Do you know anyone who has been able to participate in First Rain? Is that how you now about it?

DC: Yeah, I think I know a couple underclassmen friends who have? I’m not really sure. I think people mostly just know about it because it’s a big Santa Cruz thing. It just fits with the whole, like, hippie kinda reputation the college has. I remember Kayla is the one who told me about it in high school, when I decided to go here. Maybe they knew from their friends who went there in past years too.

Me: It might be too late for a First Rain this year, but would you do it next year?

DC: (laughs) Um…maybe! If my friends did it with me then I feel like it would be funny. And I’ll be a senior so I may as well since it’s my last chance. But I’m not, like, in a rush to do it. I think it’s funny though, I would definitely wanna see one before I graduate.

I have heard of this tradition occurring at multiple universities, but UCSC definitely has a culture that I feel like aligns with it tradition the most. The college is known to have a very free-spirited and artsy student body, so learning about their First Rain tradition was a fun way to see how that reputation is kept up. I also think it was very interesting to learn that First Rain has become less accessible due to the lack of rain in California, despite the fact that it was established when it rained very often during the Fall and Winter months in Santa Cruz. Hearing about this made me think about the relationship between climate change and longstanding folklore and traditions – if something like UCSC’s First Rain can no longer occur annually because the environment is much dryer than it used to be, I can only imagine how other cultural practices and traditions throughout the world have changed/become obsolete as a result of climate change as well.

4/20 Celebrations at UCSC

Background information/context of performance: DC is a 21-year-old student at University of California, Santa Cruz. She grew up in Los Angeles and Alameda, CA, but is currently living in an apartment in Santa Cruz. Now that she’s back on campus, DC has been able to engage with UCSC culture much more often, which includes a large amount of “stoner” culture that is specific to Northern California. Since this is very well-known about UCSC culture and its student body, I asked DC about any 4/20 traditions she has learned about as a student.

DC: We go to Porter Meadow which is on-campus where one of the colleges is and smoke every year on 4/20. It’s a thing for all the students, um, because it used to be a tradition for everyone every year. This was the first year everyone got to do it in a couple years because of remote school.

Me: Did you know about this tradition before you decided to go to UC Santa Cruz?

DC: Yeah, since, like, a lot of kids we know from high school go to UCSC, I feel like it’s kind of just a known tradition now. Plus I had older brothers who knew a lot of people who go there. I also had, um, some upperclassmen friends who go to UCSC now too. And 4/20 in itself is just well known in Northern California. I feel like as you grow up here you just learn these things.

Me: So is this how you spent your 4/20 this year?

DC: I went to Porter Meadow with my boyfriend and my friends and just kinda like stood outside in the grass with everyone and smoked. We brought picnic blankets and some food and it was pretty warm that day, so it was honestly really nice to see everyone hanging out outside together again…it felt like I was getting a very college experience (laughs).

Me: How was it for your first Porter Meadow experience?

DC: (laughs) It was fun! It’s so specific to my school, so it was cool to finally experience it.

DC and I have been friends since high school, but now that we’re at different universities I obviously am not able to see her or talk to her as often as I would like. I enjoyed being able to talk about this when I saw her during our Fall break. It was interesting to realize that hearing about the folklore that my friends are exposed to in their new environments was a great way to get to know what their daily lives are like now. In that way, I think that folklore and traditions not only creates a feeling of membership and belonging in a group, but also allows for connection through storytelling. Because we both grew up in the Bay Area, I do think that 4/20 traditions and celebrations are well-circulated among teenagers and adults, but DC was able to actually experience a piece of folklore that had only been something we had heard of through word of mouth for years as high schoolers. This emphasizes the idea that folklore and tradition are able to persevere for such long periods of time, despite something as life-changing as the Covid-19 pandemic. DC was still able to feel as though she is part of a specific group or culture at UCSC, despite missing over a year of in-person school.

High School Senior Pranks

Main Piece

My informant explains that her old high school has an age-old rival high school in the same city. She remembers that the graduating seniors of every year would perform a prank on the rival school, and the rival school would do the same. These pranks were usually harmless, but sometimes costly to recover from. She remembers that in her senior year of high school, a few seniors from her school dyed the rival school’s pool purple, which was her school’s colors. The rival school, looking for revenge, threw two queen-sized mattresses in her school’s pool, which absorbed a large amount of water, making it impossible to lift them out of the pool without a crane. She laughed as she recounted these memories to me.


My informant is a college student studying Business. She was school spirited in high school and claims to have always participated in senior activities with her classmates. She explains that nobody she asked could remember how the rivalry between the two high schools started. However, according to my informant, it is not hard to draw conclusions. Both schools were located in the same small suburb of Los Angeles, ranked academically high, and held strong sports teams. She concludes that these factors may have caused, in her own words, this “friendly, but not-so-friendly” rivalry between the two high schools. She explains that in addition to the senior pranks, there would be one school day out of the entire academic year dedicated to pep rallies and parties to encourage the football team to beat the rival school later that day. She explains that these schools were rivals in every way, but her favorite part of the rivalry was the senior pranks.


These senior pranks are performed by high school seniors. Faculty members knew about the pranks and were aware of the plans for the pranks, but never interfered with them unless they saw a safety issue or a health hazard that could possibly result from the pranks. Usually, these pranks were performed later in the year, when most seniors suffered from “senioritis” and would rather organize pranks than do any more schoolwork. 

My Thoughts

I attended the same high school as my informant, and can attest to the large-scale rivalry between these two high schools. The pranks that the seniors performed were generally creative and inventive, but the pranks were not as important as the act of organizing these pranks. Students came together after school to meticulously plan their pranks to perfection. This goes to show that the prank itself was not important. The value of this tradition came from the act of coming together. 

High school seniors are in a liminal period. They are transitioning from their identity as a student to their identity as an adult, whether they enter the workforce or go off to college. Senior pranks are a form of rite of passage. According to French ethnographer Arnold van Gennep, practical jokes and pranks such as senior pranks are performed during these liminal times to ease the tensions and anxieties that come with the transition. Thus, we can conclude that senior pranks were a way to smoothen the transition from student to adult for high school seniors. 

The Aggie Bonfire

Main description:

RA: “The biggest tradition I remember from going to A&M is the Aggie bonfire. I’m pretty sure I went every year. That was… such an event. A&M was always known for being a very spirited school, but the bonfire was the biggest sort of school spirit celebration we had, and it’s the only one I can really remember going to. We had the bonfire the night before a football game usually, not one our of rivals but one we knew that we would win against. It’s a really old tradition, by now they’ve probably done it for at least a hundred years. I think the bonfire started out small, and I don’t think anyone knows why, other than as a way to support the football team. But by the time I was at A&M it had grown a lot, and there were even multiple bonfires. There was one main one that students would plan, but there were also lots of smaller ones that people would have with their friends. There was also usually an alumni fire. At the bonfires we cheer and drink and burn effigies of the other team’s mascot. There also, um, more exciting things that happen, that I can’t talk with my son about. (I had my first hook-up there). But the fires got even bigger after I left, and I think it became an official school tradition. There was a board that organized it and you had apply to be an organizer on it. When I was there anyone could volunteer. Makes sense, because at that point the fires were so big you needed to think about architecture and physics of the whole thing to make sure it lights up and stays standing. Eventually in the ‘90s there was a tragedy and the bonfire collapsed. I don’t remember how many people died, but the school had to ban the bonfires for a long time. People would try to throw little, secret ones sometimes, but there weren’t any big bonfires for a long time. At some point an Alumnus group got together and started throwing the bonfires again, but they’re kept a lot smaller and I think they have actual engineers help to design the bonfires.”

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “Why were the bonfires so important to you and to the school?”

RA: “I was never a very spirited person, but my friends and I always went to the bonfires. It was fun to be together with everyone yelling and dancing around a fire. Going to the bonfire was apart of being an Aggie.”

Personal interpretation:

School spirit traditions are important at many schools, not just as a way of building excitement and attention for sporting events, usually football, but they also serve as an important community building tool. The informant primarily attended for social reasons, and indeed it appears that the bonfire is an important part of school social life.

Harvard Graduation Tradition

Main Piece:

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.