For Freshmen. By Freshmen.
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Mar 29 2016
by Beth Abbott

15 of the Most Unique College Traditions

By Beth Abbott - Mar 29 2016
College is a crazy and fun time in people's lives, and there are special traditions at practically every school in the country. Here are the 15 most unique college traditions, listed in no particular order:

1. Ski/Beach Day at Pomona College (Claremont, CA)—sometime after 1940

Image Credit: Beth Abbott

This tradition highlights the extreme variety of activities in Southern California. Every year, Pomona students are given a day off to participate in Ski/Beach Day. In the morning they go skiing at a local resort, and in the afternoon they head west to a beach in L.A. or Orange County. I don't know about you, but I'm definitely jealous!

2. Orgo Night at Columbia University (New York, NY)—since 1984

Orgo (Organic Chemistry) is one of the hardest and most notorious classes at Columbia, and the final is generally given on the first day of exams. At 11:59PM the night before the final, the Columbia Marching Band goes to Butler Library and entertains stressed-out students with music, jokes, and the fight song. Afterwards, the band usually walks across the street to Barnard's quad and plays songs, but they were relegated to Lehman Lawn after students with dorm rooms facing the quad complained about the noise. In general, though, the festivities of Orgo Night offer an entertaining break from studying, not to mention a stress-reliever before finals. 

3. Sod Cemetery at Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)—since 1962

This is definitely one of the weirder traditions on the list. Anytime that the football team (Seminoles) wins an important road game (i.e. underdogs, played at arch-rival University of Florida, or an ACC championship), the team captains dig up a piece of the field and bring it back to Florida State. Once there, they bury the sod in FSU's Sod Cemetery, which is generally accompanied by a ceremony. Sports bring out the weird side in everyone.

4. Dragon Day at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)—since 1901

Every year, first year architecture students create a dragon that is a few stories tall. Then, they dress in outrageous costumes and parade across campus to the Arts Quad, where the dragon is ceremoniously eaten by fire. The engineering students, who have a rivalry with architecture students, heckle them along the way. The event is inspired by the legend of St. Patrick, who drove the snakes and serpents out of Ireland. Intense.

5. The Big Sub at Barnard College (New York, NY)—start unknown

Every October, Barnard's student activities council build a giant sub sandwich on Lehman Lawn, and they create a map that contains the location of each type of filling. Students and faculty count down the hours until 7 o'clock, when they are allowed to dig in. A few years ago, the sandwich was gone in less than five minutes! With each year, the sandwich grows an extra foot in length to symbolize another graduating class. I know I'm not impartial when I say that this is the best tradition on the list, but you've got to admit that it's pretty cool!

6. Hooprolling at Wellesley College (Wellesley, MA)—since late 1800s

If you have seen the 2003 film "Mona Lisa Smile", this tradition will be familiar to you. Every May, the graduating seniors roll hoops down Tupelo Lane to Lake Waban, and the first girl to get there is thrown into the lake by her fellow seniors and other spectators. Before the second wave of feminism, there was a myth that the first girl to reach the lake would be the first to get married in the graduating class; it was later changed to the winner becoming the first CEO in the class. Now, the first girl to reach the lake is said to achieve happiness and success, whatever that might be in her mind. 

7. Seventh Annual Nitrogen Day at Reed College (Portland, OR)—since 1992

Each year, Reed students set aside a day to celebrate nitrogen, the element that they think is the most under-appreciated. The event consists of students reading poetry about what the world would look like without nitrogen, a band performance, a nitrogen-filled beer garden, and free food. It is called "Seventh Annual" because nitrogen is the seventh element on the periodic table. Clever...

8. Senior Serenades at Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY)—since early 1900s

Vassar has a few traditions that could have easily made the list, but this one takes the cake. Every year, the freshmen and senior classes participate in the Serenades. The seniors parade from dorm to dorm, and the freshmen sing insulting songs to them. Then, seniors throw water balloons at the freshman. They used to fill the balloons with condiments such as ketchup and chocolate syrup, but the college instituted a water-only rule a few years ago. Bummer—that sounds like a lot of fun!

9. Pumpkin Drop at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)—start unknown

Every year on the Saturday before Halloween, MIT students throw pumpkins off of the Green Building, the tallest structure not only on campus but also in Cambridge. In recent years, the number of pumpkins has gone past 100, and they are filled with candy and other treats. That sounds really messy, but fun!

10. Lantern Night at Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, PA)—since 1886

I know, another Seven Sister tradition, but they are too good to omit from the list! Every fall, the freshmen stand in the cloisters and sophomore students give them lanterns that are either the class color or purple. The ritual serves the dual purpose of welcoming the freshmen students to Bryn Mawr and passing "the light of knowledge" from sophomores to freshmen. 

11. Healy Howl at Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.)—since 1973

Every Halloween, The Exorcist is screened at Georgetown, ending just before midnight. After the showing, students head out to the campus cemetery and howl at the moon. This tradition started because the movie had several scenes shot on Georgetown's campus. 

12. Throwing Toast at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)—since 1970s

Again with the crazy sports traditions. At the end of the 3rd quarter of home football games, UPenn students and fans throw toast onto the field. Inspired by The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the tradition has become so popular that the school has a specially designed zamboni to clean up the toast!

13. Dooley Day at Emory University (Atlanta, GA)—start unknown

Every year, there is a week-long celebration in honor of a skeleton from the biology department named James W. Dooley. One day during that week, Dooley goes from classroom to classroom and wordlessly dismisses students from their classes, and afterwards, they are treated to festivities arranged by the school. First appearing in a letter to the school publication, The Phoenix in 1899, Dooley has become Emory's unofficial mascot, and his nickname is "The Lord of Misrule."

14. Polar Bear Swim at Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH)—since 1995

Every February during the Winter Carnival, an opening is drilled in Occom Pond. Then, Dartmouth students jump into the water with rope tied around their waists. The temperature of the water is generally below-freezing, so emergency personnel are always on hand. Personally, I would never jump into that pond, even if someone offered me $1 million.

15. Fish Toss at the University of New Hampshire (Durham, NH)—since early 1970s

I saved the weirdest (and slimiest) tradition for last. When the UNH hockey team scores their first goal, students and spectators throw dead fish onto the ice, symbolizing the opposing goalie "fishing" the puck out of their net. The on-ice officials have begun to call a penalty when this occurs, but nobody at UNH, including the hockey team or their coach, cares!

Lead Image Credit: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr 

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Beth Abbott - Barnard College

Beth Abbott is a freshman at Barnard College majoring in History. She writes historical/science fiction, and enjoys traveling, reading, photography, and watching ice hockey in her free time. You can check her out on Facebook.

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