50 Crazy College Traditions
| Dave Tomar
Are you ready to discover your college program?
College is more than just studying for exams, sitting through lectures, and meticulously planning out your future. Your college experience is colored as much by what happens outside the classroom as within. That’s probably why there are so many cherished college traditions. The memories you make with your classmates — whether you’re tailgating, streaking, or dropping pianos off of academic halls (it’s a thing, trust me) — will almost certainly outlast the bits and pieces of info crammed into your brain on the eve of a big test. To prove it, we take a look some of the craziest college traditions, and we give you a glimpse at some of the campus activities that could await you if you’re still shopping for colleges.
College traditions may often seem frivolous, fleeting, and even downright stupid. But according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, these traditions can also be extremely important coming-of-age experiences.
College is a time of self-exploration, expanding horizons, and general indulgence in your most bizarre impulses. Some of the best college traditions attempt to capture this reckless joie de vivre in a single day, or even a single moment.
As you proceed, note that several themes recur here:
- Sporting events often provide just the excuse that students need to let go of what limited inhibitions they have.
- Many student traditions — we're sure you'll be shocked to learn — center on a robust consumption of spirituous beverages.
- And then there's the nudity. So, so much nudity. College students just love to take their clothes off.
But before you judge too harshly, remember that this is the only opportunity that many will have to behave so…conspicuously. College is a crazy moment in life that passes by in the blink of an eye.
These 50 College Traditions help students pack all of the craziness of that moment into a single, indelible memory.
1. Ohio State University: Mirror Lake Jump
If you’ve never been submerged up to your most sensitive appendages in sub-zero water, you simply can’t imagine how invigoratingly awful it is. This does not stop the roughly 10,000 students from Ohio State who take the annual plunge.
On the eve of the Buckeye’s yearly showdown with their arch-rival Wolverines from the University of Michigan, students show their support for the vaunted football program by consuming massive amounts of liquid courage and leaping into the dark, frigid waters.
Though some accounts hold that the unofficial tradition dates back as far as 1969, the modern ritual really assumed its place in campus lore in 1990. It was then that a pioneering group of roughly 100 students paraded around campus riling school spirit. The band of merry revelers punctuated said parade by taking a dive into the school’s beloved Mirror Lake.
Picturesque at dawn and elegantly outfitted with white lights during the winter holiday season, it is also the site of the school’s most raucous celebration on the Tuesday that precedes each year’s highly anticipated installment in this historic series of games. For many years, administrators harbored a policy of discouragement toward an event that sees some modest number of students visiting the emergency room every season (mostly for minor sprains or bruises).
Hard to blame the university for its apprehension. Tradition or not, it costs the school an estimated $20,000 a year to clean the lake (mostly of its excessively high ammonia concentration, if you catch our drift) after the event.
Still, in more recent years, university officials have recognized the futility of obstructing tradition. It is thus that security has shifted its focus from prevention to crowd control. The Ohio State’s Mirror Lake Jump is pretty much the most exciting way ever to get hypothermia.
2. Murray State University: The Shoe Tree
I’m neither a botanist nor an arborist, but I’m not particularly surprised to learn that nailing a bunch of shoes to a tree is not great for its health. Indeed, all evidence derived from this Murray State Tradition suggests the condition to be fatal.
Do not let that deter you from recognizing the truly romantic implications of this footwear-festooned fixture on the Murray, Kentucky campus. Though nobody can say for certain when this tradition began, the legend behind the shoe tree tells that good luck will favor couples who marry after meeting at Murray State should they return to campus and nail a pair of mismatched shoes to the trunk.
Just a few feet from Pogue Library, the shoe tree is a reminder of the love that blossoms on campus…as well as the importance of a good fire safety plan. It turns out that the exceedingly high level of zinc coursing through the veins of the shoe tree (thanks to its preponderance of nails) makes it especially vulnerable to lightning.
And that’s the story of how the first shoe tree and all its shoes burnt to the ground. A second shoe tree stands nearby, though its branches have been pruned to reduce the risk of fire. What the decidedly stumpier tree lacks in branches, leaves, or shade, it more than makes up for in matchmaking skills.
3. Cornell University: Dragon Day
For those who doubt the power of nerd rage, behold the heated rivalry between Cornell’s architecture and engineering students. You’d think these kids had so much in common. But then, perhaps it is that very similarity that drives this spirited and sometimes anarchic intra-campus feud.
Dragon Day traces its origins to 1901, when the school of architecture decided that it deserved an occasion for revelry. Today, Dragon Day is a campus-wide celebration that passes on the Friday before Spring Break each year.
Though the original 1901 event saw students carrying a model dragon and adorning their academic hall with flags and banners, it was not until the 1950s that the practice of constructing a dragon became standard operating procedure. Since that time, the school of architecture has attempted, each year, to design, build, and parade dragons of widely variant style across campus.
Students throughout the university will attend the event in elaborate costumes (or in some cases, disguises largely comprised of masking tape and discarded Natty Ice beer boxes). Though Dragon Day is conducted largely in good fun, it has also become an opportunity for engineering students to vent the various frustrations that have gathered over a semester of study. Starting in the 1980s, a frequently fractious rivalry emerged wherein the engineering school’s Order of the Phoenix has annually constructed a creature capable of confronting the dragon.
1988’s sword-brandishing knight on horseback was among the more successful of these. The prior year’s deflated inflatable phoenix, less so.
Students have also seized Dragon Day as an opportunity to voice political discontent as with the event’s cancellation during the Red Scare of the mid–‘50s and in 1968, when the student body painted the dragon black to protest the war in Vietnam.
Today, Dragon Day is a cherished and much-anticipated event, particularly among the university’s freshmen. And if you think that this is the most Harry Potter-esque thing going on at an American university, you should know that there are actually roughly 300 schools in the U.S. that field official quidditch teams.
Learn more about Cornell’s amazing founder!
4. Tufts University: The Naked Quad Run/Excessively Overdressed Quad Stroll
For nearly 40 years, the students at this reputable private research institution have marked the conclusion of the fall semester by disrobing and sprinting like drunken newborn babies out into the cold Massachusetts night. Starting in the ‘70s and lasting until the 2000s, the Naked Quad Run served as an opportunity for students to exorcise the demons of the preceding school term in decidedly bacchanalian fashion.
Historically, participants combined the thrills of nudity and intoxication to create an event of relatively out-of-control mayhem. By 2011, the university’s president had grown weary of the event’s inevitable spate of hospitalizations, most for acute alcohol poisoning. Stepping in to put a stop to what he called “carnage,” the president announced the imposition of a full semester’s suspension for anybody who felt compelled to let it all hang out.
With security in tow and warnings in place, university personnel prepared themselves for a naked revolt. Though many were disappointed that the university’s longstanding tradition of undressed frivolity had come to an ignominious end, the student body channeled its frustration into a new and decidedly nobler tradition.
It was thus that the final year of the Naked Quad Run would be succeeded by the inaugural Excessively Overdressed Quad Stroll. In a tradition that substantially reduces the risks either of hypothermia or shrinkage, students now distinguish the occasion by either donning excess layers of clothing or by attiring in their best finery. What was once a streak is now a strut.
5. Columbia University: Orgo Night
Orgo Night is everybody’s favorite night at Columbia University. Well, not everybody’s. The university president can’t possibly be a fan. And the event does offend a lot of people. And organic chemistry students probably hate it.
But everybody that’s left totally loves it. Orgo Night occurs on the eve of finals and is named in honor of those hard-working organic chemistry students, who have traditionally been slated for the first final proctored on campus each semester.
As these diligent future scientists pore over their materials in the reading room of the Butler Library, the school’s marching band favors them with a mighty distraction. The tradition, which is believed to have begun in the 1960s, was historically aimed at lowering the orgo chem curve. Today, the event is instead seen as a way for the campus to collectively unwind before the impending pressure of finals.
Indeed, as the marching band occupies the library, hundreds of students will gather from around campus to behold the cacophonous spectacle. Raucous musical performances are usually preceded by a brief routine of off-color jokes and followed by a full-scale musical assault on the campus.
Visits along the trail include the president’s house and the all-girls school, Barnard, where appreciators ticker-tape the performers from dorm windows.
If all of this seems a bit anarchic for a marching band, one should know that Columbia’s unit is not a marching band in the traditional sense of the word. Indeed, owing to the football program’s generally dismal track record and the student body’s own irreverent sensibilities, this group is as much comedy troupe as band.
As such, far more than any homecoming or bowl game, Orgo Night is this band’s night to shine.
6. Emory University: Dooley’s Week
Ordinarily, you would consider the sight of a walking skeleton a bad omen. But not during Dooley’s Week. During Dooley’s Week, that walking skeleton is a symbol of good times and campus spirit.
The skeleton enjoys a rather colorful backstory. Dooley is said to have made his campus debut way back in 1899. His legend was first committed to parchment in a 1909 letter, so says the informational video offered at this Georgia’s university’s website.
The letter tells of one James Dooley, Virginia-born and a veteran of the American Civil War. Following his service, James developed two habits; wandering the fledgling Emory campus nearby his adopted Georgia home and imbibing copious amounts of alcohol. It was the former that first endeared him to the campus and the latter that led to his premature death.
But James Dooley earned passage to a second life when an experimental procedure pulverized, reassembled, and reanimated his remains as a biology lab skeleton. By virtue of his long history with the university, it is said that Dooley then assumed a seat on the university’s faculty board. Though Dooley is known to haunt the campus without warning from time to time, his influence is greatest during a single week each spring.
Dooley is, arguably, the most powerful member of the faculty during this one week, armed as he is with the authority to dismiss full lecture halls with a flourish of his bony fingers. This much-anticipated week also brings with it a campus-wide scavenger hunt and scheduled appearances by prominent comedians and musical performers.
The identity of the student or students enlisted to embody Dooley is a carefully guarded secret. Indeed, a story tells that in 1949, Dooley was kidnapped by scheming students from Georgia Tech, who threatened to unmask the fossilized faculty member. Since that time, Dooley travels with his own security detail.
7. Georgetown University: The Healy Howl
Georgetown University is the alma mater for one of the scariest dudes ever to walk the earth. No, we’re not referring to Patrick Ewing, though the seven foot tall NBA Hall of Famer is certainly on the list.
Instead, we speak of another alumnus from this private, District of Columbia-bound university; one William Peter Blatty. If his name isn’t of the household variety, his greatest achievement surely is. The author of 1971 novel,
The Exorcist, and screenwriter for the terrifying film adaptation which was to follow, Blatty not only graduated from Georgetown but returned to its campus to film some of the movie’s most memorable sequences.
Perhaps it is not inappropriate that the nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution was site to the most famous demonic exorcism ever committed to media. Thus, it should also be considered appropriate that Georgetown is a city-wide capital for all things freaky on Halloween. On this night, each year, the students gather for a showing of the scariest movie ever made. Certainly, its creep factor is substantially magnified by the fact that so many sites in the film will look eerily familiar to Georgetown residents.
The showing will end at the witching hour, when students congregate at the on-campus graveyard for a collectively cacophonous howl at the moon. The Healy Howl — named in honor of the university’s beloved 29th President, Patrick Francis Healy — gives students a chance to exorcise their own demons.
8. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Pumpkin Drop
Hurling stuff off of buildings is super fun. This is the underlying premise of MIT’s pumpkin drop.
The residents of 1 West hold the distinction of living in the smallest wing of the East Campus dormitory. Despite their size, 1 West’s occupants mark the final Saturday of each October by commanding campus-wide attention.
Residents ascend to the top of the Cecil and Ida Green Building with hundreds of pumpkins in tow. Spectators gather at a healthy distance from the bottom of the building to cheer as 1 West’s students rain the seasonal gourds from some 21 stories above.
And no, this is not one of those engineering projects in which students compete for the surest way to land a pumpkin safely on the ground. No. This activity is undertaken for the sheer joy of smashing pumpkins. Billy Corgan would be proud.
How the late MIT alum, Green Building-designer, and world-famous architect I.M. Pei feels about the event, we can’t say for certain.
9. Occidental College: The Birthday Dunk
There was a time when your birthday was a secret to all but your nearest and dearest. Today, thanks to social media, every person you ever met once at a party and friended eight years ago wants to wish you a Happy Birthday.
And that’s great.
What’s less great, if you happen to be a student at the Occidental College, is that your classmates will also almost certainly know that it’s the anniversary of the day you blessed this earth with your arrival. To show you just how much this means to them, your closest friends will mark the occasion by kidnapping you and pitching you into the Lucille Gilman Memorial Fountain.
Fortunately for birthday celebrants, Occidental is based in Los Angeles, so it never gets too cold. However, if it is your birthday, you might do well to travel with empty pockets and a life vest.
Getting soaked is kind of a thing at Occidental College as it happens. You may be taking the plunge all by yourself on your birthday, but everybody gets in on the act at the end of commencement rehearsal. This is when the students and the university president face off in an epic water balloon fight called Last Licks.
Speaking of presidents, Barrack Obama studied at Occidental from 1979 to 1981. One wonders whether the former leader of the free world ever celebrated his birthday from the bottom of the Lucille Gilman Memorial Fountain.
10. Virginia Tech: Cadet Versus Civilian Snowball Fight
War is the scourge of humanity. Snowball fights are, by contrast, awesome. So persists the glorious tradition at Virginia Tech. It is pertinent that this public land grant university was established in 1872 as a military institute. Though the college was offering traditional educational options well before the turn of the century, it has always maintained a proud military training heritage.
It is in the shadow of this heritage and the cold winter sun that Virginia Tech’s Cadets challenge the university’s civilian population to an annual and epic snowball fight on the occasion of the season’s first frosty precipitation.
Virginia Tech makes its home in Blacksburg, Virginia. Standing, as it does, on the crest of the Eastern Continental Divide, this elevated campus sees an average annual snowfall of about 25 inches.
This is great news for the university’s well-trained and meticulously organized military trainees. The news is less good for its civilian populations, who undertake a far more chaotic and decentralized approach to snow-trenched warfare. In fairness, the event will take place on the campus Drill Field, where cadets naturally enjoy home team advantage.
The icy melee will usually begin when a freshman cadet sounds the fire alarms of the nearby civilian residence halls. It will traditionally end when the cadets have outmaneuvered their campus mates and flanked them into submission.
11. Dartmouth College: Winter Carnival Keg Jump
Fair warning — a lot of Dartmouth traditions involve kegs. In the defense of the storied Ivy League university, this tradition has been discontinued. But when you hear about it, you should probably be surprised that it took as long as it did to earn its ban.
So the story of the Keg Jump begins with Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival. It gets profoundly cold in New Hampshire during the nether months, a fact which ranks Dartmouth’s winter sports teams among its most competitive athletics programs. Starting in 1911, the campus has traditionally held a three-day festival celebrating the achievements of these athletes as well as Dartmouth’s unique culture of academic excellence and gleeful intoxication.
Legend has it that the Keg Jump became a fixture of the carnival in the early ‘80s when two Psi Upsilon brothers emptied their fifth keg. The momentous accomplishment coincided — as such accomplishments often do — with the viewing of a televised monster truck rally. When they witnessed legendary stuntman Evel Knievel soaring over a line of cars on his motorcycle, inspiration was born.
Conveniently, the Psi Upsilon house had iced its front lawn for the Carnival since as far back as World War II, largely for the purposes of an ice hockey match. When the brothers laced up their ice skates and leapt heroically over their recently conquered kegs, a new and greater purpose was born.
By 1984, the Keg Jump had morphed into a charity event, wherein brothers either paid the entry fee or earned sponsorship from an area business. Competition was limited to only brothers of the Psi U house for insurance reasons. Indeed, it is well understood among the event’s participants that broken arms and collarbones are a natural hazard of athletic competition.
But, then, so is glory. Just ask David Mace, who owns the world record (assuming that Dartmouth is the only place in the world where this event took place in any organized fashion) for traversing no fewer than 14 kegs in 1998. Obviously, the most amazing thing about this feat is that somebody drank 14 kegs.
Much like Cal Ripken’s streak, Mace’s is one record which will never be challenged. This is because 2000 marked the final year that Psi U was able to convince the university’s insurance company to cover a house that held an annual charity Keg Jump. Apparently, mentioning that Evel Knievel was an inspiration for the event did nothing to help.
Though Dartmouth’s student body looks forward to February’s Winter Carnival with great anticipation each year, it sadly lacks the element of reckless self-endangerment that Psi Upsilon’s Keg Jump helped to make an annual tradition for 19 spectacular years.
12. Miami University of Ohio: Green Beer Day
Can’t think of anything more revolting than drinking cheap beer at 5AM? What if it was dyed green? Anybody else have reflux just thinking about it?
Proving that there are some things in life you can only do when you’re in college, the students of Miami University (which is suspiciously located in Oxford, Ohio some 1100+ miles away from the city of Miami) notch the final Thursday before each Spring Break by binge-drinking from sunrise to sunset.
The local watering holes open their doors at the crack of dawn to already-waiting revelers. Since 1952, students have gathered in swarms during the wee hours to initiate celebration of the St. Patrick’s Day season (yes, at some of the more enthusiastic colleges, it’s kind of a whole season). So old is this tradition that Miami University may actually have been instrumental in popularizing the greening of beer on the occasion.
Like most any university tradition that revolves explicitly and entirely around drinking, this is one that has seen a bit of push and pull between students and administration. Indeed, though Green Beer Day is largely tolerated (because honestly, what can you really do?), the university has never officially sanctioned this culturally entrenched event.
13. Purdue University: The Breakfast Club
Purdue University has long enjoyed a rich gridiron tradition. Three graduates of its program went on to become Super Bowl winning NFL quarterbacks (Bob Griese, Len Dawson, and Drew Brees). This kind of success is bound to inspire a dedicated and eccentric fanbase.
So dedicated are supporters of the Boilermakers that every home game is greeted as a holiday. Specifically, the holiday is Halloween. Each Saturday is an occasion to wake up with the sunrise, dress like cowboys, cartoon characters, or caped crusaders, and line up to hit the bars at 6AM.
The Breakfast Club is less a club than a motley gathering of Purdue’s loyalest spectators. It owes its start to the ingenuity of Pete’s Bar and Grill, which dreamt up the early morning pep rally in the late ’80s to get a jump on the competition. As the tradition caught on with students, every bar in town began offering its own pre-tailgating specials.
Historically, the Breakfast Club has been the site of a fair amount of mayhem, as is likely to accompany pretty much any occasion where drinking begins before dawn. It is also not untrue that fisticuffs were, for some years, a semi-regular occurrence among the Breakfast Club’s members. Most accounts say that, as the Club has grown, its vibe has mellowed considerably.
Today, the event feels a lot more like a festival than a fight club. And if you haven’t gotten your fill during the football season, the Breakfast Club makes one spring semester cameo for the Purdue Grand Prix, which is held in April.
14. University of Chicago: Scavenger Hunt
Since about the time that Duran Duran was popular, students at the University of Chicago have orchestrated and competed in what is among the world’s greatest and most elaborate scavenger hunts. Starting on Thursday at the stroke of midnight and ending on the Sunday of Mother’s Day, the students at this private research institution face off in a frantic scramble to gather items, complete challenges, win competitions, and drive untold miles to best their schoolmates.
On four days in May, it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad campus.
The official archives date back to 1987 for an event which has gathered in participation and complexity with each passing year. Some teams can be as large as hundreds of students while others may be an army of one.
The event is inaugurated at a raucous ceremony where students are presented with their first challenge; finding the scavenger hunt item list. In past years, said list has been buried beneath the sand at a local beach, transcribed on the body of a team captain, or transmitted in some other sadistically creative manner. Once the list is acquired, students have until the Judgement Day ceremony that Sunday morning to acquire the items and complete the tasks outlined within.
Items to be acquired, as per 2015’s event, might include “A misleading metronome,” “a team member’s genome, sequenced and aligned to 30x coverage,” and of course, “Microhenge” which is “like Stonehenge, only made out of space age polymers using multi-photon lithography.”
From 2011 to 2014, the event held the title as the world’s largest scavenger hunt, an achievement most likely facilitated by the Road Trip portion of the contest. Here, an unspecified number of team members must complete a road trip not longer than 1000 miles’ distance from campus and must be returned thereto by Saturday night.
And lest you should think this event is sheer chaos, be assured that the university and its students take their scavenger hunt very seriously. Behold the rules for 2015’s contest, which note that “all items on the List can be obtained and performed legally — the judges take no responsibility for getting thrown into the clink — be it local clink, state clink, federal clink, or Colonel Klink. If you end up there, it is your fault.”
15. Rice University: Beer Bike
A relay race involving both chugging beer and racing on bicycles in excess of 40mph? Don’t worry. It’s not as dangerous as it sounds. There are, of course, designated “chuggers” and designated “bikers.” And the rules state pretty explicitly that the two roles are not at all interchangeable.
Still, as opposed to most of the college traditions with the word “beer” in their name, this one is actually officially sanctioned by the university. This Houston, Texas campus is gripped by excitement during each spring semester with the arrival of Willy Week. This is the week leading up to Beer Bike and seems largely designed to help students hone their chugging chops through events such as the Beer Debates and International Beer Night.
Any number of peripheral traditions and festivities have come to accompany Beer Bike since the inaugural ride back in 1957. Among these traditions, a massive water fight is one of the more popularly attended.
Still, beer really is the linchpin of the event, especially for competitors. The way it works is, a designated chugger must complete a full beer (24 ounces for men, 12 ounces for women) before his or her corresponding cyclist can begin a lap. Naturally, the next chugger down the line cannot begin drinking until said cyclist rounds the final curve.
The competition will typically feature a men’s, women’s, and alumni squad for each residential college as well as the Graduate Association. The official rules say that each team should plan on fielding ten bikers, ten chuggers and two alternates for each position.
16. North Carolina State University: Krispy Kreme Challenge
How is it possible to run five miles and still gain ten pounds of fat? Well, North Carolina State University’s Krispy Kreme Challenge is one way.
If waking up early, running two-and-a-half miles to a donut shop, scarfing a dozen crullers (or 2,400 calories), and running an additional two-and-a-half miles, all in loin-chilling temperatures, somehow doesn’t sound like the worst idea in the world to you, you might be a candidate for the Krispy Kreme Challenge.
In fact, as horrendous and bowel-rattling as it sounds, the annual event has actually come to attract thousands of participants in recent years. The very first Krispy Kreme Challenge was attempted on a dare. As legend has it, NC State basketball player Chris McCoy conceived of the idea but conveniently overslept on the morning of the actual event.
Though the original challenge was by no means a formally organized event, it actually managed to attract national coverage, landing on the Sports Illustrated: On Campus list of 102 More Things You Gotta Do Before You Graduate.
Encouraged by the attention, the challenge’s organizers picked up considerable steam by the time of the first formal undertaking in 2006. This also began the event’s relationship with the North Carolina Children’s Hospital, which is the beneficiary of all charity moneys raised by participants.
Speaking of participants, you’d be surprised how many people actually want to do this to themselves. The Parks Scholars, who organize the event, enjoy full support from the civil authorities. Indeed, now that an estimated 8000 people will take on the challenge, local police officers must close the road to vehicular traffic and assure safe passage to destination-donut.
If you don’t think you can cram a dozen glazed breakfast pastries down the hatch halfway through a mini-marathon, try to remind yourself that this is all for a worthy cause. Amazingly, 2014’s challenge, the 10th Annual, garnered more than three-quarters of a million dollars for the Children’s Hospital.
17. Reed College: Renn Fayre
If you’re the type of person that likes frocks, bodices, or cod pieces, may we humbly beseech ye to join the merrymakers who hold court at Reed College’s annual Renn Fayre. Although students at this Portland, Oregon campus are more frequently spotted in skinny jeans and flannel shirts, Renaissance fashions are in full flare during the last few days of class each spring semester.
What was once a one-day celebration has blossomed into a three-day affair complete with 17th century traditions like softball, fireworks, and of course, that grand Age of Enlightenment custom, lube wrestling. The event begins each year with the Thesis Parade, wherein graduating seniors symbolically march from the front steps of the library to the registrar's office to submit their work. Here, the university president will congratulate students on their efforts.
It is thus that the celebration is officially underway. As per its name, the inaugural event was an actual Renaissance Faire in which students embraced their inner-Tolkein with a display of post-academic euphoria. Royal courtesans, dames, smithies, elves, and dragon-slayers wandered the campus in search of a good time.
Today, Renn Fayre is something more of an honorary title for an event which sports a new theme each year. For instance, 2014’s Renn Fayre theme was “Close Encounters.” Thus, traditional Renaissance activities like bicycle jousting and minstrel performances swam in a sea of alien invaders and spacemen.
Other features include a free 24/7 PB&J stand, a glow-in-the-dark opera performance, and frequent sightings of swarming ‘picts,’ which are basically like a naked, non-musical equivalent of the Blue Man Group.
18. Penn State: THON
It’s hard to picture doing anything for 46 straight hours, let alone dancing. And yet, this is exactly what the participants in Penn State’s THON attempt to do every year since 1973. It was during this year that a group of students seeking a creative way to brighten up Pennsylvania’s typically dreary Februaries concocted the idea of this never-ending dance marathon.
The official name of this event is Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, which doesn’t fit on a flyer quite as well as THON. The basic gist of it is that, beginning at 6PM on the third Friday in February, designated dancers must commence to boogie. Official rules state that one’s booty shall not quit until 4PM on the approaching Sunday.
The inaugural event was dedicated to raising money for children with special needs, a cause worthy enough to keep participants on their feet and moving throughout the duration. The original dance-off featured 39 swinging couples and raised roughly $2000. Today, believe it or not, THON is the single largest student-run philanthropic organization in the world and is dedicated to supporting the fight against childhood cancer.
The annual event will be orchestrated by roughly 15,000 volunteers and will ultimately cram some 700 dancers into the Bryce Jordan Center for the ordeal. As of 2018, THON had raised an astonishing $157 million.
19. University of Vermont: Naked Bike Ride
It’s hard to imagine a less comfortable way to spend an evening. But for University of Vermont students nearing the end of their annual studies, the Naked Bike Ride is a much-anticipated expression of freedom…freedom from classes, freedom from professors, and of course, freedom from clothing.
On the final night of classes, the university’s student body displays…well…its student’s bodies, in an exercise of mass streaking accelerated by the presence of wheeled conveyance. Students have called the event a collective celebration of university pride and positive body image, whereas school administrators have regarded it as a nuisance to public safety.
In 2011, the university announced that it would no longer provide university funding and resources for the event…which means that prior to this year, the university provided funding and resources for the event! Indeed, security and barricades had been supplied by the university since the inaugural 1996 ride.
Though the university has withdrawn its official support, and though evenings can dip to unflattering subzero temperatures, students continue to embrace the event as a way to strip themselves of the pressures of each passing semester.
20. Georgia Tech: The Mini 500
What looks more ridiculous than a bunch of full-grown people riding tricycles? Almost nothing.
That’s pretty much the premise behind Georgia Tech’s annual three-wheeled derby. The Mini 500 is a much-loved and long-practiced competition amid the festivities of homecoming weekend. Though various student houses and organizations have taken part in the race since the first heat rolled out in 1969, the event was originally inspired by the popular appeal of watching fraternity pledges peddle awkwardly around campus as a measure of hazing.
This fun and demeaning practice ultimately morphed into the race which draws hundreds of voluntary participants today. The marathon begins as crouched riders line up behind Georgia Tech’s beloved vehicular mascot, the Ramblin’ Wreck. For men, it ends after 15 complete revolutions of the Peters Parking Deck. For women, 10 laps must be completed.
Riders will jockey for position while experimenting with any number of equally hilarious riding techniques. The end result is one of the most widely inefficient Super Mario Kart races that you’ve ever witnessed.
The Mini 500 also holds a decidedly unusual distinction. In 2010, it was the subject of a 30-second Public Service Announcement produced by and about Georgia Tech that was awarded a regional Emmy in the category of “Best Television Commercial Produced in the Southeast.” As an Emmy-worthy subject, the Mini 500 is the closest thing to Bryan Cranston that you’ll find on our list.
21. Elon University: Elon Festivus
George Costanza’s father famously tells the story of Festivus in a 1997 episode of Seinfeld. In it, he describes a secular celebration lacking the exclusiveness of other seasonal holidays. He declares it, “a festivus for the rest of us!”
Like so many other Seinfeldian concepts, this one needled its way into real life. The unaffiliated celebrants of the world mark Festivus on December 23rd each year.
The students on this idyllic North Carolina campus celebrate their Festivus in the spring. Originally conceived by Elon University “Bros” without affiliation to the Greek system, Elon Festivus is intended as an all-inclusive blowout for the whole university. This ambition is really the only thing it has in common with the Costanza family’s tradition. As one source notes, there are no Airings of Grievances and the only real Feats of Strength involve hauling kegs from Point A to Point B.
We also can’t recall the Seinfeld episode where Jerry, George, and company threw down in a massive mud wrestling melee. Indeed, this is the most distinctive predilection of Elon’s students in a celebration that has grown in ambition and visibility since its 2004 debut. Estimates placed roughly 2000 students at the scene of the grime in 2014.
The campus is consequently inundated by mud people, who have engendered some administrative resentment for helping to redistribute the university’s dirt to the walls, floors, and edifices of its residential halls. Suffice it to say, Elon Festivus, though cherished by students, is neither university- nor Seinfeld-sanctioned.
22. Tulane University: Crawfest
20,000 pounds of mudbugs!
Either a biblical plague is upon us or it’s time once again for Tulane University’s amazing Crawfest. Ensconced in the constant bacchanal that is New Orleans, Tulane is site to some of the world’s most epic partying and binge-eating. Crawfest is both of these things and so much more.
Held each year to mark the start of crawfish season in the Big Easy — typically in early spring — Crawfest extols all things New Orleans. First things first. If you’ve never seen a crawfish, let alone eaten one, they’re basically tiny little lobsters and once you get going, you can suck them down like a walrus at Happy Hour. Crawfish are, to be sure, ranked high among the culinary delights trawled from the murky depths of the bayou.
But of course, those delights are many and varied. So too are the offerings of the Crawfest. In addition to long, newspaper-covered tables landscaped by mountains of boiled critters, Crawfest features vendors, crafts, and nearly every cajun comestible you could imagine. If you happen to be a student or faculty at Tulane, crawfish are free-of-charge, all-you-can-eat, and impossible-to-resist.
And because it is New Orleans, the festival also serves as a welcome excuse to host a day-long concert featuring national headliners, brass bands, and local legends. Since the inaugural Crawfest in 2006, Tulane’s celebration has drawn ever larger crowds. Indeed, each year, the campus population of 13,000 roughly doubles with crawfish hungry visitors.
23. University of Tennessee: Ace Miller Memorial Boxing Tournament
If you enjoy brotherhood and getting hit in the face, this is the long-standing college tradition for you. It’s not that this tradition is particularly crazy, per se. It’s just that, well we wouldn’t do it.
But don’t let that stop you. Every year, right around the dead of winter, the University of Tennessee holds its annual boxing tournament. Named after its late founder, the Ace Miller Memorial Boxing Tournament has marked the university’s biggest annual rager since its initiation in 1981.
The three-day tournament, sponsored by Sigma Alpha Epsilon, will feature pugilists drawn from each of the university’s fraternity houses. Fighters will compete against one another in eleven separate weight classes. Historically, spectators would fill the university’s Jacobs Center to watch the fight. However, the crowds had grown so large by 2015 that the event shifted to the roomier Knoxville Expo Center.
Even if you don’t plan on getting punched repeatedly for a good cause (all proceeds go to the Golden Gloves boxing charity), there’s plenty for you to do during fight weekend. The Pub Brawl, for instance, is not as hostile as it sounds. It’s really just a cleverly themed name for the beer-soaked bar crawl that occupies non-combative participants on the weekend of the main event.
Once the tournament’s winners hoist their belts for the cameras (yes, there are actual belts), it’s time for a campus-wide party and concert.
24. Le Moyne College: Dolphy Day
Depending on who you ask, Dolphy Day is named after the dolphin who serves as Le Moyne College’s official mascot, or after legendary jazz flautist Eric Dolphy, or after a Frank Zappa song about said flautist.
And depending on who you ask, none of these things is true. Whatever the inspiration behind Dolphy Day, most of its participants will agree that this is the best day of the year on this private Jesuit campus in Syracuse, New York. What most distinguishes this class-free day of campus-wide partying is that nobody really knows when Dolphy Day is until it starts.
Typically held on one of the first warm days each spring semester, its arrival is generally a surprise to students, one signaled by an impromptu 2AM fireworks display. This kicks off 24 hours of merriment and silliness, all presumably inspired by the late jazz legend from which the event doesn’t actually take its name.
A bit about that. Eric Dolphy was one of the all-time greats, and probed deep into experimental territory playing flute, alto sax, and bass clarinet alongside the likes of Charles Mingus and John Coltrane. His career was all-too brief, cut short as it was by his death from undiagnosed diabetes at the age of 36. This was in 1964. Subsequently, Dolphy was referenced in the 1970 Frank Zappa tune, “Eric Dolphy Barbecue.”
Cue the first Dolphy Day in 1971. Today’s celebrants believe the event to have been inspired by Dolphy’s drive for unfettered artistic freedom while many who were there at the time of inception argue that the original event had nothing to do with the jazz musician and that it was largely an act of civil disobedience.
Whether or not that was true, the university has heartily embraced the tradition, going so far, in 2010, as to erect an on-campus statue of Dolphy — who we should mention never came close to Le Moyne College during his lifetime. The university also contributes porta-potties, inflatable bounce houses, and as per Frank Zappa’s insistence, an annual Eric Dolphy Barbecue.
Learn about Le Moyne’s amazing founder!
25. Hollins University: Tinker Day
As you’ve probably gathered by now, it is not uncommon for students at nearly every university to enjoy a single special occasion without classes, responsibility, or sobriety. Perhaps only Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia can be said to celebrate this occasion at a 3000 foot elevation.
This is the special charm of Tinker Day, on which students celebrate freedom at altitude. In a tradition which some sources say extends back as far as the 1880s, Tinker Day will begin with a 7AM wakeup call wherein seniors march through residence halls at this all-women’s college banging on pots and pans. This is the signal to rise, don an elaborate costume, and make for Moody Hall to consume donuts.
This is your fuel should you choose to engage the 4+ mile vertical loop that leads to the summit of Tinker Mountain and back. Most students describe the trail as slippery and treacherous, though that doesn’t stop between 300 and 400 participants from making the trek each fall.
Those who do reach the top are rewarded with a feast of fried chicken and a local delicacy called tinker cake. This is followed by a rambunctious chorus of Disney song parodies and a series of student-run skits. Prizes are given for outstanding performances as well as to the class with the best turnout.
26. Hope College: The Pull
Of all the well-worn campus traditions on our list, this may be the most grueling. The small liberal arts campus of Hope College stands in close proximity to Michigan’s Black River. This proximity has served well this oldest of Hope College traditions. Every fall semester since 1898, students have gathered on either side of the river with the intention of yanking the inhabitants of the opposite bank into wet, muddy defeat.
Often regarded as one of the great annual intra-collegiate Tug-of-War contests (and just as often regarded as among the only one of such traditions to survive past the Eisenhower Administration), this battle of physical fortitude pits freshmen against sophomores in the fight of their young lives. These underclassmen will function as the pullers.
They will be girded by the impassioned support of moralers, made up of juniors on the freshman side and seniors on the sophomore side. The result is a fierce and ongoing campus rivalry between odd- and even-yeared graduating classes. Lest you think the work of moralers is merely for pep, you should know that this is warfare. And as such, the pullers who will grapple with a rope longer than a football field and six inches in diameter must do so from deep within trenches.
Thus, moralers stand above ground and serve as the eyes, ears, and any other body part required by the mighty pullers. The legendary Hope College Pull was originally designed to conclude at such point as one team successfully overpowered and thus drew the opposing team into the river. While the record for fastest victory was a 1956 pull in which the losing team was submerged in under three minutes, some of history’s pulls have neared the four hour mark. Indeed, when a 1977 match was settled in a wholly unsatisfying tie after 3 hours and 51 minutes of knee-buckling competition, new rules were established.
Today, a match may not exceed three hours in length. Measurements are taken at that juncture to determine which team is ahead in the power struggle and by how many feet. Now, it is not the losing team which takes the plunge as punishment but the victor which celebrates its triumph with a swim.
27. State University of New York at Buffalo: Oozefest
Oozefest is the nation’s largest collegiate mud volleyball tournament (because there are so many). Since 1984, students at SUNY Buffalo have greeted the spring by sloshing around in the mud.
But this sloshing isn’t for nothing. The event, which was originally designed as a way to help students decompress before finals, has evolved into a fairly substantial tournament. The inaugural event featured 16 teams competing on two courts. By dramatic contrast, today’s tournament features a bracket of 192 teams facing double elimination across 24 courts.
That means more than 1500 players will brave the swampy cold (it is Buffalo, remember) to be a part of the proceedings. Winners will receive trophies and gift cards. Prizes are also issued for best Team Costume. Indeed, Oozefest is quite the colorful and motley gathering...at least it is before all assembled are uniformly mired in brown.
Whatever costume you don, organizers from the Office of Student Life advise that your best friend on the day of Oozefest will be duct tape. The strategically placed sealant may be the only thing keeping your shoes and pants on your body, as well as keeping as much mud as possible out of your various unmentionables.
Teams wishing to compete must reserve a slot early or risk being wait-listed for a coveted spot in the sludge.
28. Harvard University: Primal Scream
So the Primal Scream is not itself unique to Harvard. Nor, indeed, is the act of campus streaking. Harvard University may simply be the first University to combine the two into a single glorious act of physical and psychological release. At midnight, on the eve of the first final exam, the students of Harvard University strip down and share a sporting lap around Harvard Yard.
The semi-annual event is, naturally, a great deal more harrowing at the end of fall semester than spring. On both occasions, the Harvard Marching Band reports to the scene to entertain onlookers with suggestive song selections. And to be sure, spectators are many to behold the chaotic ten minute dash that signals the end of another semester.
History tells us that the earliest of these Primal Screams, which date to the 1960s, were far tamer. Like such cathartic gatherings at other schools, this simply marked the moment at midnight before finals when students would assemble to howl in collective anguish over their travails. By the 1990s, the idea of engaging this assembly without clothing became standard operating procedure.
Though nobody is entirely sure how the occasion evolved (or devolved) as it has, there may be a bit of presidential history in it. Legend tells that Charles Adams, son of President John Adams, was once suspended from Harvard for imbibing spirituous beverages with his colonial bros and sprinting nude across Harvard Yard.
29. Hampshire College: Easter Keg Hunt
New England is home to some of the most serene, picturesque, and lush forestry in the U.S. The great woods near Hampshire College’s Amherst, Massachusetts campus are no exception. Unlike most of the region’s wooded areas, this one has been known to spontaneously sprout beer kegs every spring.
Naturally, the students of this and other surrounding campuses are all too happy to help with the harvest. On the day before Easter, a few planters will venture out into the campus woods to deposit hidden kegs. Congregants will mark the holy day by rising before dawn and hunting the beer barrels that are obscured among trees and brush like so many painted eggs.
If one should desire to take part in this tradition of unknown origin, one must be both an early riser and a hearty breakfast boozer. Indeed, reports from previous keg hunts suggest that the five or six vessels concealed throughout the forest will more than likely be sniffed out and tapped by 6AM. By noon, the whole party is over.
Though the Easter Keg Hunt is widely discouraged by campus police and does not enjoy administrative sponsorship, the activity has become a staple spring event at Hampshire.
30. Barnard College: Big Sub
Is there anything better than a 500-foot-long sub? Sorry, that was a loaded question. We all know that a 700-foot-long sub is way better.
The students at Barnard College will back us up on this one. They should know. They do this every year. Come October, the students at this private women’s liberal arts college — one of the original Seven Sisters — gather around the biggest freakin’ sandwich you’ve ever seen and engage in a jubilant mass-gorging.
Considering that the Columbia-affiliated campus covers only four acres of precious Manhattan real estate, building and eating a sandwich that big is quite the logistical feat. Among the critical ingredients are more than 350 loaves of bread, 87 pounds of turkey, 100 pounds of tuna, almost 300 pounds of veggies, 90 pounds of cheese, and 4 gloppy gallons of mayonnaise.
Organizers and gorgers alike will rely on a map to build and stake out their desired spot at the sandwich. At exactly 7PM on the night of the event, students may begin scarfing. And then, what takes months to organize and prepare is gone in a feverish five minutes of grinder guzzling glory.
31. Brandeis University: Liquid Latex
If you have been at all disturbed by the various descriptions of naked, streaking, sometimes even bike-riding students here within, you’re absolutely going to love this one.
Indeed, an article archived on the Waltham, Massachusetts university’s website proudly notes that its Liquid Latex night earned the school honorable mention in a 2010 issue of Playboy magazine. Putting aside the titillating implications of this distinction, the Liquid Latex show is actually quite artful. The annual theatrical production features a variety of performances in which the players are costumed only in paint.
The ambiguously nude stage production traces its origins to a 2000 exhibition in the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts, entitled the Body Art Fashion Show. The success of this artistic venture inspired the annual performance that is now in its 15th year. With 200 performers, artists, and organizers involved and more than 700 students drawn to the performance each spring, Liquid Latex has become one of Brandeis University’s most popular traditions.
32. Yale University: Bladderball
The students of Yale University are recognized for their intellect, their dignity, and for their erudition. There is perhaps no tradition which reflects these virtues more vividly than Bladderball.
Bladderball is by far the most enjoyable way to injure yourself on this revered Connecticut campus. Or at least it was until the university developed a zero-tolerance stance on the pandemoniacal contest. The titular object around which the game centers is a leather ball six feet in diameter which, beginning in 1954, was released annually into a sea of rowdy Yalees just hours before the start of the annual Yale v. Dartmouth football game.
The Bladderball itself was the brainchild of Korean War veteran and Yale student Philip Zeiden, who noted the hilarity that might ensue if the six foot exercise ball he used during military training could be repurposed for a campus-wide throwdown. Zeiden was right.
The term Bladderball owes itself to the rather disgusting practice of using an inflated animal bladder as the ball in early campus rugby games. Like rugby, scrums and injuries became fairly common pitfalls of the contest. However, unlike rugby, there really are no rules. While various competing student organizations would vociferously and jubilantly declare victory based on no merit whatsoever, the overarching and collective goal appears to have been the eventual release of the Bladderball into the surrounding city.
Historically, students have conspired to the best of their abilities to heave the ball over the fence containing Old Campus and into the general population. It is thus that, in 1971, the Bladderball roamed free on the streets of New Haven for some six miles before being cornered and apprehended by the local constabulary.
Events such as this ultimately resulted in the unceremonious retirement of the Bladderball by way of university decree in 1982. Since that time, any number of Yale students has sought to reintroduce this wonderfully reckless event, though most of these attempts have been largely dispiriting. Indeed, a 2011 effort at secretly unleashing the unruly orb were foiled instantaneously when police officers employed lethal force to subdue Bladderball after only seconds of competition.
33. Carleton College: The Primal Scream/Silent Dance Party/Carleton College Rotblatt
Carleton College may be one of the most wonderfully eccentric campuses in the U.S. The highly regarded liberal arts school in the small riverfront town of Northfield, Minnesota, seems to foster a special kind of general oddness within its student body.
The original purpose of this entry was to tell you about Carleton’s Primal Scream, and we will. But with a little bit of reconnaissance (not really, we just Googled stuff), we couldn’t help but stumble on a wealth of sacred Carleton rituals.
So first, the Primal Scream. On the night before finals begin, at exactly 10 PM, Carleton’s students share a moment of mob madness, breaking from their studies to scream bloody ’ell out the window. After releasing an unholy racket of study-induced torment, students are said to quietly return to their books as though nothing has happened.
Other schools which embrace a similar act of mass catharsis are Northwestern, Columbia, and Stanford. But they get plenty of attention so here, it’s all about Carleton.
By sharp contrast to the eardrum-shattering moment described above, Carleton is also home to the Silent Dance Party. Another pre-finals tradition (jeez, finals must be really stressful at Carleton), this party begins on the first floor of the library. The assembled students don headphones and boogie to a shared playlist on their respective personal media devices, resulting in what is no doubt a bizarre sight to the casual book-borrower.
Finally, we would be severely remiss if we did not mention Carleton’s College Rotblatt, which is basically the world’s longest softball game. First played in 1964, this festival-like event includes a healthy dose of inebriation and a single inning for every year since the school was founded. Carleton opened its doors in 1866 so if you’re planning on attending this year’s Rotblatt as a spectator, we would most definitely recommend bringing one of those bleacher-butt cushions. The Seventh Inning Stretch doesn’t come until midway through the 115th.
34. Fordham University: Midnight Breakfast
There are more than a few universities that practice the custom of serving midnight breakfast to students during finals. However, this New York-based Jesuit college places a particularly gratifying spin on the proceedings.
Once each semester, right in the thick of that feverish days-long cramming session that ensconces finals, students can feast on eggs, bacon, waffles, and melons by the dark of night. And if midnight bacon isn’t enough to get your brain juices flowing, perhaps the motivation of having it served to you by university president Father McShane will help.
Indeed, students line up for the first-hand opportunity for a meet-and-greet with the apron-bedecked chief executive. While Fordham’s students are busting their respective humps to finish out the semester strong, it can help to know that the highest ranking man on campus is also burning the midnight oil.
35. Pomona College: Ski-Beach Day
Pomona College is a small private school located in Claremont County, just 25 miles from downtown Los Angeles and situated in close proximity to the San Gabriel Mountains. For each of the last 25 years, the students at Pomona have celebrated the arrival of spring with Ski-Beach Day.
On Ski-Beach Day, the students from this university — who are probably tan all year round — rise early and make their way to the mountains for a morning on the slopes. Switching gears at about noon, participants then hop on buses and spend the afternoon basking on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. All of this is done with a minimum of time wasted on travel.
Obviously, the expressed purpose of Ski-Beach Day is to make those of us who don’t live in California feel bad about ourselves. I’m just gonna say what we’re all thinking. You lucky jerks.
36. University of Maryland, College Park: Terrapin Offerings
Most students will do just about anything to improve their odds of succeeding on finals. Reading, studying, cramming. Ok, so those are all pretty much the same thing. The point is, there’s a lot riding on your finals. The students at the University of Maryland, College Park know this all too well.
So in addition to poring over their books and notes, these young Terps also engage a bit of casual idol worship. Since 1933, the campus has enjoyed the protective and watchful eye of Testudo, a stoic bronze terrapin gifted to the school by that year’s graduating class. Testudo’s first several decades were marked by abuse at the hands of raiding Johns Hopkins students, who favored graffiti tagging and abduction as ways of fanning a healthy intra-state rivalry.
By the 1960s, the university had grown tired of retrieving its oft-displaced spirit animal so Testudo was filled with 700 pounds of cement and plopped down in front of the McKeldin Library. It is from this sunny basking point that Testudo earns his keep today. Though he’s mostly there for inspiration during the school year, he takes on an altogether divine authority with the approach of finals.
As the testing season gets underway, Maryland’s students have taken to leaving any number of sacrificial offerings for Testudo in hopes that the tortoise will favor them with good grades. Offerings run the gamut from beer funnels and blow-up dolls to stop signs and academic hall exit doors. In recent years, some students have even bequeathed flat-screen televisions to Testudo, though it is hard to imagine that an 80-year-old bronze turtle doesn’t already have his own TV.
37. Baylor University: Tortilla Toss
If you’re planning on attending Baylor University, you might consider brushing up on your tortilla-tossing skills. Apparently, this could have a fairly substantial impact on the course of your higher education.
So says the legend that inclines underclassmen at this Texas-based private Baptist University to venture to the Waco Suspension Bridge with corn-flour flats in hand. Just a few dozen feet from the edge of the water-crossing is a concrete buttress, the only remnants of a booth that once collected tolls from cattle drivers on the old Chisholm Trail. It is told that he or she who successfully frisbees a tortilla to the top of the buttress will reach graduation in four years.
Though tortilla tossing is not technically illegal, it is not well-liked by local park rangers, who have expressed concern that tortillas are not part of a healthy, balanced diet for area ducks. Still, the tradition is so popular that local cleanup crews must dedicate roughly six hours every week to removing the plastic tortilla bags that students have knotted to the suspension bridge.
There is no prize that we’re aware of for landing a fully dressed taco up there though it’s probably worth a shot if you plan to graduate with honors.
38. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: The Baker House Piano Drop
As on nearly any list of university accomplishments, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is so darned innovative that it gets two spots in our countdown (See Pumpkin Drop). This tradition perhaps best combines MIT’s reputation for progress in the field of physics with its general excellence in the fine arts.
Indeed, it was 1972 when aeronautical engineer and legendary campus prankster Charlie Bruno — fresh off of building a homemade rocket launcher and firing it into the Charles River just for fun — decided to chuck a stand-up piano off the sixth floor of the Baker residential hall. Those present at the time reported some disappointment that the splintering piano did not produce a particularly musical death rattle. It was, according to most witnesses, just a really loud crash.
This did not stop the piano drop from playing its way into MIT’s annual calendar. The world’s shortest and most destructive recital is held each year on Drop Day, the final point of spring semester on which students are permitted to drop classes.
The event is largely seen as a tribute to the late Charlie Bruno and a host of others who infused MIT with a zany and intellectually flamboyant energy in the 60s and 70s. Those who will execute the drop from the Baker Hall roof must wear harnesses and engage in intensive safety training prior to the drop. But as all who have done so will tell you, gravity does most of the work in keeping this tradition alive.
39. University of Virginia: Homer Statue
Sure, tons of schools have traditions that involve nudity. But to the credit of University of Virginia’s students, this custom also has a literary twist…that is if you count kissing a venerable scribe’s butt to be literary in nature. (Full disclosure: I do.)
When sculptor Moses Ezekiel gifted the Blind Homer with his Student Guide statue to this Charlottesville-based research university in 1907, he could have hardly guessed the future which awaited his noble subject. Indeed, as the streaking fad swept across American campuses in the 1970s, not even Homer was safe from the indignity.
It was in this decade that the University of Virginia’s students made it custom to engage in their own respective odysseys of sorts. Homer sits magnanimously and unflinching on the university’s fabled Lawn, daring students to disrobe, sprint to him, and plant one right on his bronze posterior.
According to the official rules, streakers must then make their way to the university Rotunda, where a peek through the keyhole will reveal a statue of Thomas Jefferson. After giving a wink to the U.S. President and university founder, you are permitted to return to your clothing.
40. Florida State University: The Sod Cemetery
There are few graveyards that invoke a feeling of triumph as does Florida State University’s Sod Cemetery. Some 90+ bronze tombstones mark the final resting place of stadium sods belonging to vanquished opponents.
The story of how FSU came to be haunted by the ghosts of many lawns now passed begins in 1962. For the first half-century of its existence, FSU had been an all-women’s college. With just over a decade of male admission, the school’s football program was fairly in its infancy at the start of the ‘60s. A dedicated athletics booster, longtime professor, and future dean, Coyle Moore sought to light a fire under the fledgling program when he urged his players to bring home a square of sod from their road match with the heavily-favored University of Georgia.
When the Seminoles emerged with an 18–0 victory and a chunk of grass, tradition was born…with a burial. After Moore’s wife demanded that he remove the decomposing piece of sod from their living room mantle, he created the Sod Cemetery. Without fail, FSU’s players have expanded the purview of the burial ground by seizing a square of sod from every road victory in which they are considered underdogs, as well as from every showdown with the University of Florida and every bowl game.
On the subject of bowl games, the university’s stalwart tradition earned it a $500 fine when players forcibly removed a square of Super Dome astroturf in celebration of their 1988 Sugar Bowl victory. Out of respect to the university’s tradition, officials presented FSU with a free piece of Super Dome carpet upon their next Sugar Bowl berth.
Today, the Sod Cemetery stands just a few yards from the football team practice fields. Thousands will visit to pay their respects on game days.
41. Lawrence University: The Great Midwest Trivia Contest
A trivia contest doesn’t sound too crazy on the surface, right? It’s just quizzo. Big deal, you say? Well, this one, the nation’s oldest and longest, runs for 50 straight hours. Fast forwarding through commercials, that’s basically like watching 130 consecutive episodes of Jeopardy!
Even Ken Jennings gets tired.
The original trivia marathon was held in April of 1966. Questions were broadcast to the Appleton, Wisconsin campus by way of the student-run radio station. The inaugural question asked students to identify Superman’s father. (It’s Jor-El, for those of you lacking our considerable nerd credentials). The winning team in that first contest was gifted a broken refrigerator for their display of knowledge.
The original event proved a major success and was immediately adopted into annual tradition. Today, the trivia contest is held in the last week of every January and questions are dispersed through the web. Student teams are given three minutes to phone answers in to trivia masters, who must themselves answer to a yearly appointed Grand Trivia Master.
Because the contest takes place online and because trivial tidbits are so readily Googleable these days, questions have grown increasingly arcane and abstract. For instance, one of the easier (so we’re told) items in this year’s line of questions commands
First, translate the phrase
Bon matin, j’aime le jeu from French to Furbish. What is the binary code for the 13th letter when it is translated?
We guessed Babe Ruth though we’re pretty sure we didn’t fully understand the question.
42. Duke University: Tailgating
This tradition should alternately be known as
how to make football fun even when your team stinks.
It’s true that tailgating doesn’t sound like a particularly unique activity. We doubt that you’ll find a single university with any kind of football program whose students don’t begin celebrating in stadium-adjacent parking lots early on each and every home Saturday. What most distinguishes the athletic supporters on this gorgeous Durham, North Carolina campus is their dedication to futility.
Such is to say that where tailgating is the way that most college football fans get gassed for game time, it is verily the main attraction for Duke students. A festival atmosphere falls across the campus as its various guest lots become dense with portable grills, tents, folding tables, cornhole boards, and Blue Devil paraphernalia. All of this is done in honor of a team that hasn’t made a bowl game since 1994, whose record between 1999 and 2007 was a tragic 13–90, and whose fans endured an excruciating 22 game home losing streak between 2005 and 2007.
Arguably, the university’s legendary basketball program is successful enough to buoy school spirit throughout the year because, miraculously, the football team’s abysmal on-field results have done little to dampen the pre-game festivities at Duke.
43. College of William & Mary: Crim Dell Bridge Kiss
The elegantly arched Crim Dell Bridge, so named for the creek across which it provides passage, is widely regarded as one of the most romantic spots on any U.S. campus. This College of William & Mary landmark was constructed in 1966.
Ironically, given its beauty and scenic appeal, it would replace a spot that the less environmentally-conscious residents of early 20th century Williamsburg, Virginia considered a convenient place to chuck garbage.
Putting aside its litter-strewn past, this lovely overpass is the keeper of great power. It is told that when a couple walks across this bridge, a kiss at the apex will seal their love in perpetuity. Should the relationship somehow not work out, the only recourse, legend has it, is for a scorned woman to push her lover off the bridge. Only this will free her from a life of solitude.
Boy, that got real dark, real fast.
44. Army-Navy: Philadelphia Showdown
What could make a storied rivalry between two esteemed football programs more exciting? Infusing it with the most rabid and unpredictable sporting fanbase in America.
Each year, the end of regular season football is marked by a showdown between the United States Military Academy from West Point, New York and the United States Naval Academy from Annapolis, Maryland. The first meeting between the two teams took place in 1890 and by 1930, it had become an annual tradition. 2019’s tilt will be the 89th consecutive season-ending match for Army and Navy.
A desire to choose a neutral meeting point for the two teams has seen these squads face off in a variety of venues over more than a century of bruising football. However, owing both to its significance in the course of American history and to its relatively central point between the competing academies, the city of Philadelphia has become the de facto venue for the gridiron tangle.
Of course, any time you hold a sporting event in Philadelphia, it comes with the added understanding that you’ve just invited the roughest, rowdiest, and rudest spectators in the nation to your party. Philadelphia Eagles fans famously pelted Santa Claus with snowballs. A Phillies fan once hurled a battery (lord knows why it had to be a battery) at a despised visiting player. So unruly are the fans from this city that the now-imploded Veteran’s Stadium became the first sporting arena to construct its very own jail cell in a subterranean corridor.
So naturally, the intensity of the Army-Navy game has been historically magnified by the sheer insanity that thunders from the bleachers around it. Though the game is held at an alternate location every four or five years, it is truly the marriage of event and venue that makes the Philly-bound Army-Navy game a spectacle to behold.
Interested in a military education? Check out our resources for service members, veterans and their families at our Military Education Headquarters.
45. Taylor University: Silent Night
Should you happen to show up a few seconds late for a Taylor University basketball game to find a foreboding hush blanketing a stadium of costume-wearing spectators, we assure you that you have not wandered into an episode of The Twilight Zone. What you are observing is Taylor University’s Silent Night, a collective act of meditative fandom that marks the last game before finals week.
Students at this Indiana-based evangelical university share a vow of silence with one another from the moment of tip-off until such time as Taylor University scores its 10th point. In stark contrast to the staid spectatorship that has preceded it, this bucket is marked by an unhinged, court-storming celebration.
The Silent Night tradition began as a stadium pajama party in the 1980s, perhaps suggesting that day and night had largely blurred together for the finals-cramming students at Taylor. But the act of abstaining from sound during such games began in 1997. Either this eerily quiet atmosphere gives Taylor’s players a bit of extra mojo or it just creeps their opponents out enough to throw them off their game because, amazingly, Taylor is 19–0 on Silent Night.
46. John Brown University: First Point TP’ing
Toilet paper can be a beautiful thing when thrown with just the right spin, arc, and trajectory. Once it hits its target, of course, it’s just a huge mess. But then, that’s pretty much the point.
The students of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas know this joy full well thanks to a tradition that dates back to 1980. The minute that a player from this Christian liberal arts college scores the team’s first field goal, the fans release some 2,000 rolls of toilet paper into the wild.
The result is a raucous minute of streaming white, followed immediately by one of the most worth-it technical fouls in all of sports. For obvious reasons, this is the best-attended game of the year and has garnered coverage in USA Today and on ESPN.
47. University of Pennsylvania: Toast Throw
If you’re looking for a job as University of Pennsylvania’s Quaker mascot, it’s probably best that you aren’t gluten intolerant. The condition would make it pretty hard for you to endure one of the university’s most dutifully practiced traditions.
The third quarter of each football game held at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field is followed by a collective recitation of the classic school spirit melody
Drink a Highball. The final line of the song rejoices,
Here’s a toast to dear old Penn. Historically, this was the signal for all in attendance to tilt a glass in honor of their alma mater.
That is, until the 1970s, when alcohol was banned from the stadium. Suddenly, a more direct translation of
Drink a Highball resonated with students. Now, the toast which is offered is quite literally that. Today, every third quarter brings with it a hailstorm of lightly crisped bread and more than a few bagels. What began as an ironic protest against stadium prohibition is now a part of Penn lore. Estimates hold that during a good season, attendees will carpet the field with between 20,000 and 30,000 baked goods.
This tradition also makes the University of Pennsylvania the only Ivy League college with its very own
Find out how UPenn is bucking tradition by becoming the first Ivy League University to provide access to fully online degree programs.
48. Stanford University: Bearial of Oski the Bear
Every football season, during the week before another chapter is written in the rivalry between Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, the students of the former ritualistically desecrate the mascot of the latter.
Oski the Bear has been repping UC Berkeley since 1941. Since that time, he has pretty much been a constant target for abuse and indignity at the hands of the enemy.
Anti-Oski sentiment reaches its greatest pitch in the days leading up to each year’s all-Cali face-off. It is then that the irrepressible Stanford Band leads a procession in which pallbearers (pun totally unavoidable) carry a casket-bound Oski effigy through campus. Though the event is called a
Bearial, the name is something of a misnomer. It’s really more of a cremation.
When the casket arrives at the White Memorial Fountain (known to students by the far more foreboding name, Claw Fountain), Oski is unboxed and impaled thereupon. He is subsequently burned at the stake.
Pretty sinister stuff.
Turnabout is, of course, fair play. Students at UC Berkeley will typically respond in kind by, at any opportunity, beating the sap out of their rival’s lunatic mascot, The Stanford Tree.
If you want to know more about the bitter ongoing feud between Oski and the Stanford Tree, check out our piece on The Most Legendary, Lovable, and Ludicrous College Mascots.
49.Gallaudet University: Rat Funeral
Gallaudet University is a federally chartered private university for the deaf and hard of hearing, located in Washington, D.C. It is the first advanced school specifically serving the deaf and hard of hearing, and remains the only school of its kind in the U.S. In all likelihood, it is also the only school of its kind to feature an annual tradition in which outgoing freshmen hold a collective funeral for their rats.
It’s not as bad as it sounds, but it used to be. Back in the day, it was customary for each incoming freshman to adopt a pet rat for the year. At year’s end, it was incumbent upon each student to ceremonially dispose of this pet. The act was a symbolic one. Deaf Culture notes that the alternative sign for "freshman" is the sign for "rat." The solemn burial was meant to represent the end of one’s first-year naivety, and the beginning of educational adulthood.
But of course, not everybody likes keeping rats as pets, and killing them is extremely inhumane. So now, Gallaudet students perform the very same ritual with stuffed rats. It makes for a far more sanitary, and less emotionally traumatic tradition. Still, underclassmen must perform the funeral procession and burial with total solemnity. Only after each student passes through the ominously shaped and named “coffin door” leading into College Hall is the ritual complete.
50.University of Michigan: Hash Bash
Let’s close on a high note.
The annual event known as Hash Bash may qualify the University of Michigan as one of the ‘greenest’ campuses in the U.S. And no, we’re not referring to the school’s record on environmental conservation.
Considering the dicey legal ground on which this event stands, Michigan’s yearly celebration of marijuana has achieved a surprising longevity. Students have gathered in substantial numbers for this highly conspicuous smoke-out nearly every year since 1972. The original event was inspired by a March 9th, 1972 Michigan Supreme Court Decision which deemed unconstitutional the law used to jail leading protest figure John Sinclair for possession of two joints.
The decision meant that for one hazy month, the state of Michigan lacked any laws prohibiting the use of marijuana. The students on University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus determined to exercise their newfound freedom with an April 1st, 1972 celebration. By the following year the Hash Bash not only drew an estimated 3000 cannabis enthusiasts, but it witnessed state representative Perry Bullard attending and indulging.
Though the event transpired without incident in its first several years, the late 1970s saw increased police vigilance. By the mid-80s, the party was in serious decline. In the years since, however, Michigan and Ann Arbor alike have authored increasingly lax marijuana laws. Indeed, today, marijuana is legal in the state of Michigan.
The Hash Bash was truly revitalized in 2009, when Michigan officially decriminalized marijuana for medical use. In the years since, the Hash Bash has grown in scope and visiblity. Gathering on the university’s aptly-named Diagonal Green, students are met with a colorful Shakedown Street, flanked by tie-dyers, paraphernalia vendors, and music performers.
2015’s event set a record with as many 15,000 attendees estimated, many drawn by the appearance of one of history’s best-loved stoners, Tommy Chong.
If you’re interested in a "green" educational experience, check out Matriculating in Marijuana — The 9 Best "Green" Degrees.
So you’re planning on attending online college but you don’t want to miss out on the fun of campus traditions? You might consider taking online classes through a local college or university so that you can enjoy the flexibility and convenience of an online education while still getting the chance to participate in college traditions and campus activities.
To learn more, check out College Online but Close to Home: Blending Traditional and Online Education.
You can also browse for colleges and universites close to home by checking out The 100 Best Colleges & Universities by State 2019.
See the best college in every state in the USA! Criteria included university’s or college’s academic reputation, dedication to liberal arts, accreditation, and academic strength. Updated annually.
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