I can’t think of a college that doesn’t have a rich history. Even the newest colleges have stories to tell. College traditions are one way that those stories are passed on, and they become fun ways for students, faculty, and alumni to cultivate a sense of community and school spirit.
Some college traditions are common—singing a school song at commencement, parading a school mascot around the football field, wearing school colors on spirit day—but other college traditions are funny, bizarre, interesting, or a combination of the three. Here are 10 of my favorite college traditions from around the country:
- “Serenading” at Vassar College:
Forgive me for my bias, but I’m going to start with a college tradition at my alma mater. When I chose Vassar College, little did I know that I’d soon participate in one of its infamous traditions: Serenading. Originally known as “step-singing,” Serenading was a ritual in which juniors sang to freshmen to teach them the school songs. Over the years, the tradition has evolved. When I was a freshman, it involved a food fight that traveled from dorm to dorm and concluded in a field, where we sang obsequious songs to the seniors. When I was a senior, we forwent the food fight for environmental reasons and instead threw water balloons. Now, there is no fight of any kind—some students claimed it was hazing—but I’m told that the singing lives on. Seniors now thank freshmen for the tunes by giving them roses.
- “Little 500” at Indiana University, Bloomington: Founded in 1951, Little 500 (also known as Little Five) is a bike race modeled after the Indianapolis 500. Instead of driving a race car 500 miles, however, participating teams race in a 50-mile relay (the women’s race is 25 miles). Students pregame for the races with an entire week of festivities, and all proceeds from Little Five support the campus work-study program.
- “Gold Rush” at Montana State University: So many college traditions are rooted in athletics, and Montana State’s Gold Rush is no exception. Gold Rush is the football home opener for the MSU Bobcats, and fans descend upon Bobcat Stadium dressed head to toe in gold (read: yellow). The school sells official t-shirts, but some students get more creative, employing face paint and bandanas.
- “Renn Fayre” at Reed College:
Originally a one-day Renaissance fair, this spring tradition at Reed College is now a three-day festival that celebrates the end of classes. It features fireworks, music, and themed costumes (although, every year, some students elect to strip down, cover themselves in blue paint, and run around campus). During the festival’s kickoff event, the Thesis Parade, seniors celebrate the submission of their theses. Onlookers spray them with champagne, and at the end of the procession across campus, seniors throw copies of their theses into a bonfire.
- “The Hudson Relays” at Case Western Reserve University:
In 1910, Case Western Reserve moved its campus from Hudson, Ohio, to Cleveland. To celebrate the big move, the school created the Hudson Relays, a 26-mile relay race in which every class has a team. If any one undergraduate class can win the race three times, it wins beer and burgers for every class member. If it can win all four years, every member of that class is treated to champagne and steak. Last year, the junior class—the class of 2017—won for the third time in a row. By the end of the month, we’ll know if they’ll win the bubbly, too.
- $2 bills at Clemson University:
Clemson University in South Carolina is another school that holds its athletic traditions near and dear. Every Friday, students, faculty, staff, and alumni commit to wearing orange to show their school spirit, and during home games, the football team always enters Memorial Field by running down a grassy hill into the stadium. No Clemson tradition is as unique, however, as the spending of $2 bills. The story goes that in 1977, Georgia Tech tried to reschedule its annual game against Clemson. Outraged Clemson fans stamped $2 bills with an orange tiger paw, then spent them in Atlanta to illustrate the revenue the game would generate for the city. Forty years later, fans still spend stamped $2 bills when they head to away games. In fact, the tradition is so strong that local banks order the unusual bills in anticipation of the Clemson football season.
- “Rotblatt” at Carleton College:
Named for baseball player Marv Rotblatt, Carleton College’s Rotblatt is a marathon game of intramural softball. The annual game of Rotblatt begins at sunrise on a day in the spring, but its ending time is hard to predict; after all, students play one inning for every year since Carleton’s founding in 1866 (this year, the game will have 151 innings). Rotblatt players often bat and field with drinks in hand, which suggests the game is less about competition and more about fun, school pride, and student camaraderie.
- “Ski-Beach Day” at Pomona College: When students decide where they want to go to college, they often have to choose between geographic locations: do they want to be closer to the mountains or to the ocean? At Pomona College in Claremont, California, however, students don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. In fact, they are close enough to the San Gabriel Mountains and to the Pacific Ocean to see both in a day. On Ski-Beach Day, busses leave campus around 6 a.m. for the slopes, where students ski or snowboard until lunchtime. Then, they finish out the day on the beach, making s’mores as the sun sets.
- “The Coke Toast” at Emory University: First-year students on both Emory campuses celebrate their first day of classes by raising a bottle of Coca-Cola (and they do it again at graduation four years later). “To our rebirth!” they toast. So, why is Coke involved in this college tradition? Simple. One of Emory’s first presidents, Warren Candler, had a brother named Asa, who founded the Coca-Cola Company. He donated a million dollars and some land so that the Emory campus could relocate from Oxford, Georgia, to Atlanta. That donation, and another Coke-related donation 50 years later, helped Emory establish itself as one of the nation’s leading research institutions. I’ll toast to that!
- “OOzeball” at the University of Connecticut:
OOzeball is a knockout-style mud volleyball tournament at UConn now in its 33rd year. Up to 400 teams of six to eight students can participate each year, and there are gender requirements to keep the tournament “safe, equitable, and inclusive.” Players typically leave the court coated in mud, and as many as 3,000 spectators cheer them on. Game on!
With so many schools out there, each one with its own story, it’s impossible to track every college tradition that exists. Does your school have a funny, bizarre, or interesting tradition? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.