Teen Thursday: Graduation Day & Senior Pranks

It's funny to talk about graduation day at the beginning of the new school year, when 2010 grads are off on the new paths of college or work, and the class of 2011 is looking down that long road of senior year and wondering just how much coffee/chocolate/music/reading it will take to get through it. But to me, it's still summer, and summer has always been a time of transition -- the warm break just after the new life of spring, just before the quiet death of autumn. The pause between one school year and the next that seems to get shorter with every passing year. The final deep breath before graduating seniors jump into the exciting, terrifying abyss of something new.

Graduation day. What's not to love?

Well, for starters, the girls had to wear a see-through white gown instead of the much cooler maroon that the guys sported. My hair, after a tragic frizz-inducing incident with an entire bottle of blonde highlighting conditioner, wasn't cooperating and had to go into a messy ponytail. I wasn't on the best of terms with my parents (as evidenced by the awkward family photo -- does Mom look like she wants to kill someone or what?). I didn't have a lot of friends in my school, so no post-grad bashes filled my calendar. And the worst part? I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do with my life after this. The only thing that tempered my otherwise complete terror was my excitement about leaving home at the end of summer, heading off to college. I didn't know what I'd study, what path I'd take to the future... it was enough that I was finally gaining my freedom, away from the dull homogeneity of high school and the oppressive rules of my parents.

Speaking of dull homogeneity...

Our 320-student graduating class was notorious for its lack of school spirit. While previous senior classes held fundraisers to go on Caribbean cruises for their senior trips, ours raised only enough for a 400-mile bus ride to a long weekend in New York City. Most of our sports teams were mediocre at best, and our teachers constantly outshone us in pep-itude at the pep rallies. And our yearbooks, those timeless keepsakes inside which we were supposed to spend the last month of school trading signatures and inside jokes, were delayed by the printer, promised to be sent to us sometime the next fall, long after many of us would've forgotten about them. Whatever.

Class prank? Our class?

Ennui. Apathy. That kind of collectively summed us up, as far as school stuff went. So I knew our class prank -- if we even did one -- would be mild by comparison. Nothing elaborate. Nothing daring and dangerous, hilarious and clever, or mildly illegal. Nothing for the annals. Maybe even nothing at all.

But suddenly, graduation day arrived, and there was something, after all.

I don't know who came up with it. I don't know how it was decided and organized, or how they got us all -- jocks, nerds, goths, heads, stoners, band geeks, drama queens, wannabe gangstas, preps, sluts, prudes, skaters, and everyone in between -- to agree to it (maybe because it would take too much of that missing spirit to say no). I wasn't on the inside track to such grand plans (possibly because of the socially ostracizing orange hair incident). I was just happy that someone passed me a coveted, much-whispered about ping-pong ball just before the ceremony. We all got one. All 320 of us.

And then it was on.

As each of us crossed the stage and reached out to shake the hand of our principal and receive our long-awaited diploma, we handed him a ping-pong ball.

At first, the principal kind of chuckled and thanked students in an "aw, shucks" kind of way, as if he was let in on some special rite of passage or inside joke. One ball went into his suit coat pocket. Then another. And another. But soon he had nowhere to put the excess balls, trying awkwardly to hold them in one hand while handing out diplomas, his smile never wavering as one ball then another slipped from his control.

That's a lot of balls.

I mean, think about it. 320? Even 20 balls is a lot when you're standing up on a stage in an echo-chamber assembly hall in front of two thousand parents and grandparents and onlookers, little white balls escaping and bouncing all over the shiny wood floors and down into the crowd, escalating in frequency as each of us crossed that stage. Pop. Pop. Pop-pop-pop.

After an hour, the pops slowed and faded. Then, with little fanfare, it was over -- four years smooshed into what felt like the final four minutes. As the stage crew ran desperately after the felled balls, we threw our caps in the air with a muffled woo-hoo, poured outside for family photos in the bright sun, piled into our respective family cars, and waved goodbye. To each other. To high school. To ping-pong balls. To another chapter, another path, clearing the way for the next.

Who's laughing now?

When I got home, I opened up my diploma folio, wondering if I'd hang it on the wall one day like I'd seen doctors and lawyers do. That's when I learned that the final prank was on us. The diploma that we'd all worked so hard for turned out to be an empty pleather folio with a form inside, telling us how to mail away for our real diploma a few months later. Yep, just like our yearbooks, those diplomas were still being printed. It was as if the entire administration wanted to stretch our senior year a little longer, to protect us from the real world just a few more weeks. Or perhaps they feared we'd pull a nastier prank, worthy of withholding those coveted degrees. More than likely it was just bad planning, laziness, procrastination -- par for the course with our "unspirited" bunch.

The school administrators may have pulled the last gag, planned or not. But you know something? Despite it's lack of bite, those ping-pong balls were pretty freakin' hilarious. Not as hilarious as my orange hair, but still...

Your turn!

So now I want to know... upcoming grads and younger high school students, what are you most excited about for graduation? Recent grads, how do you feel now that high school is behind you? And for those of us with *cough* more than a few years behind us since we last walked the scuffed halls of high school, what do you remember most about your own graduation?

Sarah Ockler


Kate said...

What do I remember most? The fact that class of 2000, who after years of bad behavior and multiple pranks had been dubbed "the worst class in history", was accompanied at graduation by every cop in town. They stood in the wings of the stage, stepping out threateningly whenever someone looked like they might be possibly thinking about maybe acting up.

At roughly 140 people strong, we were a group that liked to play pranks and have fun. A tight group, who despite butting heads with eachother, had always stood as a group against everyone else (including the administration, repeatedly). We ended school with the worlds most boring graduation ceremony, no bubbles or beach balls even. It was horrible and only fostered the feeling that the school never did quite understand us.

Lydia Sharp said...

It's been a while for me, but the thing I remember most was being relieved that I'd actually graduated... because I almost failed my only required course for the year. In fact, I *should* have failed. I still don't know how I ended up with a D- in that course. The only thing I can think of is that the teacher felt sorry for me and found a way to bump up my grade (I wasn't really a bad kid and usually got good grades, but I was extremely shy, and the way he had the course set-up our grade was completely hinged on doing oral reports, which I totally hated and backed out of doing every single one).

None of it felt real until I had the actual diploma in my hand. Then I smiled SO big at that moment, and the photographer snapped a shot. They ended up using that pic in the yearbook.

Senior prank? I think it involved letting a greased pig run loose through the halls. Haha. I totally forgot about that. We lived in a farming community, so pigs weren't hard to come by.

Angelina C. Hansen said...

Our high school had a gratduation tradition of a "Senior All Night". It was held at the local university and climaxed with a drawing for prizes which included a CAR! I didn't win it, but what I remember most about that night is my brilliant flash of courage. I decided to dive off the high dive at the university's pool at midnight. I don't know what happened to my arms, but somehow I reached the water forehead first. OUCH! The whopper of a headache stayed with me until dawn. I haven't been on a diving board since.

Raven said...

I'm in high school and my hopes for my graduation (which is less than 2 years from now) are that I don't fall on my face, because I'm a klutz, and eating the stage floor before 100 plus people would embarrassing. On a more serious note, I hope it's the best day of my life, because graduation signifies freedom and never having to run laps in gym class again or deal with weird teachers or cliques or whatever. Yep, I can't wait til graduation.

Claire Dawn said...

The boys in my class went to graduation as PIMPS. Black suits and thigh length white scarves!

Micol Ostow said...

I went to a tiny Jewish day school and pranks were not part of the gig. But I recently heard a story from a friend about her graduating class arranged to have a "gorilla-gram" sent to the principal of the school during her commencement opening remarks. I cannot tell you how much I would have KILLED to have seen that.

Lexie said...

Ah let's see...we had two senior pranks. One was, and I don't how this was possible because I was out sick the day it was planned, we somehow filtered Kool-Aid through the water fountains. I'm not terribly surprised we were able to--we had some of the smartest engineer type people in our class so I'm sure they figured it out--but that the faculty didn't notice for two whole days.

The second one got a special assembly from the cops to the senior class (there was 123 of us, give or take) because technically speaking a group of us (we never said who for reasons to be obvious) snuck into the school at night, re-configured all the administrator passwords, the bell time schedule, made the clocks go quicker and switched around the locks on the doors, which apparently is 'illegal'

Graduation day...it went from being outside to being stuck inside this small theatre. And I was bored since they held the awards ceremony with the graduation ceremony (only 99 of us graduated on stage) and I wasn't getting any awards. So I started a poker game in the back rows (where no one could see us). And to make it even better the VP, who was handing out our diplomas (our Principal was vacationing in the Bahamas--again), who had me in his office at LEAST once a week for something or other (not to mention my brother) mispronounced my name. Twice. He called me 'Andrea Senti'. So I refused to get up. He called me 3 times that way and I refused to be budged from my seat until he said my name properly.

Eventually he got the hint so I stalked over to him, grabbed my diploma and without shaking his hand said "Four Years I spent in your office was a wasted expenditure of my talents if you couldn't even remember my name when it counted. Getting old?" and left for my seat before he could respond. He couldn't so much as call me out because he was embarrassed enough over how long I had taken and ruined things. (I got it from my mom though, who hollered at me that I managed to now ruin every single 'special' day I've ever had by being a smarta$$).

Mindi Scott said...

We did something similar to our principal. Except instead of handing him ping pong balls, we all put stickers on him.

The thing I remember most about my graduation was that there was tons of announcements about the university scholarships my marching partner was being offered. I'd been of the belief that he was a slacker of the sort-of-smart variety like me, but no. He was an over-achiever and I'd never had a clue.

Also, I remember being SO GLAD when it over. Good bye, high school!

Meg said...

I remember making sure my mom took a picture of my current crush (read: obsession) when he walked across the stage. Ahhhh, I was so deep back then ;)

kristen tracy said...

First, awesome family photo (I'm assuming that it's your actual family in the picture). Just awesome. Second, fantastic story. I'm a huge fan of ping pong balls being reclaimed in non-ping pong activities (except for one). Third, I think random people on my graduation day handed our principal condoms. And he had to pocket them without making a big deal about it. That was the rumor anyway. From the audience it was hard to tell what they were handing him. For all I know, they were mustard packets. I'm not a rebel. I just shook his hand and took my diploma and fled.

Kaitlyn (Kaitlyn in Bookland) said...

I graduated from high school in 2005 with 550 people in my class. Since there were so many of us, our graduation is held outside on the football field. The boys, of course, got to wear navy gowns and the girls had to wear white. As soon as we all got sorted and lined up on the track, it started to rain. I'm not talking about a sprinkle, I mean heavy downpour. So, we were all soaked but pleaded with everyone to let us complete graduation anyway. We were not all about to come back the next day. Everything went pretty well (except the boy next to me peeing in a plastic bottle) and there was the traditional beach balls and blow ups being tossed around.

My favorite part was after the ceremony where I got to take pictures with my best friends while we were all wearing two gold medals. We had won the state championship in softball the year before and just won our district championship that year. We were also playing in the state tournament still. We ended up getting second in the state in 2005, but it was still so memorable. One of my favorite pictures still is when we are all in our graduation gowns and kissing our medals. We may be soaking wet, but we still look so happy!

Lindsey Leavitt said...

The drama of the Class Song.
Half of the class wanted Green Day TIME OF YOUR LIFE, the other Sarah Mclachlin I WILL REMEMBER YOU. It was funny, seeing people who usually didn't give a mouse's butt about such matters suddenly, vehemently fighting the musical fight. Sarah won out, and at graduation, our valedictorian ended her speech with, "And as Green Day said, in what SHOULD have been our class song, I hope you had the time of your life."
Oh snap.
The girl leading the Sarah campaign sat in front of me. She turned to her friend and said. "She's done."
And after graduation she attacked the valedictorian and those girls went at it like Jacob fans at Team Edward convention.
OK, so I made that last part up :) But I just remember thinking, really? She's done? Who says that? Who means it? Of all the HS battles, why did this go do epic? It's almost like we were trying to control one small thing, one memory, when our lives were about to burst out in unexpected ways.

Khy said...

That is a beautiful photo. And beautiful story.

Looking forward to graduation just for the fact that I will be out of there. xD

A. Grey said...

I remember that it was HOT... that I had a third degree burn on one leg from my sister's boyfriend's (now husband) motorcycle, which my grandmother insisted would 'ruin' me (I'm not sure how a white oval on a girl's calf muscle ruins her) and that I had a can of silly string clenched between my thighs as I walked across the stage...

It was memorable, although I had silly string stuck to my shoes for about five months afterwards. Now, looking back on it, I can see the way all of those high school incidents flavor the way I look at the world, influence my writing and the development of my characters. At the time, I rolled my eyes, but now all of that makes me smile.

Erika Lynn said...

Here is the thing, both my graduations, HS and college have managed to be majorly overshadowed by other things. My mom had already moved far away by the time I graduated HS so she came back with her new husband and a big announcement: she was pregnant. What graduation quickly became everyones attitude. My college graduation was overshadowed by my uncles cancer diagnosis just days before. Needless to say I dont care to think about either but I do have great memories from HS and college itself, thank goodness!

Erica75 said...

250 seniors. A class president who was elected as a joke and went on to become a logger. A senior class trip to a lake about 80 miles away that ended up getting rained out. A yearbook committee that got tired of taking pictures and left 4 pages in the middle of the book blank (which didn't come out until homecoming weekend the next fall). No diplomas in the folio. No one who took the initiative to come up with something clever like ping-pong balls.

There were rumors of a pig running around the parking lot on our last day, but I can't remember if they were ever verified or not. (It was *cough* a few *cough*) years ago. :)

Krista/Tower of Books said...

Well, I just recently graduated (class of 2010). My graduation was pretty average. It was outside in my football stadium and the entire day was cloudy. It rained a little before the ceremony, but we waited it out. We were almost done when the entire ceremony, and there is this huge storm cloud approaching us. The end of graduation was rushed, and about 5 minutes later it started pouring!

Our senior prank was going to the underclassmen parking lot and spraying them with water.

Jo said...

Things are different in the UK. We don't have a graduation ceremony - not for high/secondary school. (Nor did we have prom, but that's starting to emerge at schools now). We had an evening of achievement where families came down, people dressed up, the headmaster gave a speech, and then handed us our predicted grades for our GCSE results. Then we went home. Not a big deal really.

Over here we finish school at 16, but I stayed on for another two years as a sixth former to study my A-levels instead of going to college. Once those two years were up, we had this assembly where our head teacher, head of year, and... I think she was like a mentor? I can't remember her official title, made speeches about us going into the big wide world. The mentor ot quite emotional about how we were all her children, it was really quite sweet. Then they played R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly", and some of the more popular boys decided to stand up and sing on a whim. The rest of us stayed sitting down, but we all joined in singing too, and I remember there being quite a few tears. It was really quite awesome.

Then I went on to study make-up artistry. That didn't last long.

Adeeva Afsheen said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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