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October 12, 2015
Why are so many people not wearing pants? Why did a quarter of the school population suddenly vanish from campus? Why is every person of a class of more than 500 students trying to fit onto a deteriorating slab of wood? Every student at Palo Alto High School has asked these questions at least once, and the answers always run along the same lines: because they are seniors. Over the years, the senior class has found innumerable ways to express and flaunt their superiority through a variety of traditions — traditions which have become such an integral part of Paly’s culture that they are continued without much thought. But where did these traditions come from? How have they evolved into the established traditions that we know and love today?
The Senior Deck
According to math teacher Arne Lim, the deck was originally a gift from the class of 1992 as a result from leftover funds.
“Once upon a time, graduating classes held several fundraisers throughout their four years at Paly,” Lim said. “Events would generate money to be devoted to paying for, or at least defraying the cost for, upcoming large expenses [like Prom and Graduation Night]. If there was excess after all the bills were paid, then the class would ‘bequeath’ the remaining money in the form of a class gift.”
Throughout the years, the deck did not completely serve its original purposes as a performance and event area, and it slowly evolved into a spot for students to hangout in and eventually became a designated “senior zone.”
However, prior to 1972, the designated senior zone was located at the grassy area in between the the theater and tower building, according to Lim.
“There [have] always been areas of the campus that have been unofficially marked as a ‘Seniors Only’ zone,” Lim said. “This location has changed over the years due to newer constructions and changes in population. The original senior zone [was] called ‘Senior Court.’”
In 1972, construction added a host of new buildings to Paly, and the senior zone shifted to a new location so the seniors could still display their dominance.
“Because the geographical center of campus shifted, so did the need for the seniors to show their overt superiority,” Lim said. “This is when the senior zone migrated to the Senior Wall, the wall that surrounds the student center.”
When the sch
ool grew larger due to the addition of new portables between the student center and the library, the senior zone moved again, to benches in front of the 100 building, better known as the arts building. However, these benches no longer exist due to excessive vandalism.
The current senior zone remains the Senior Deck, and each senior class continues this tradition of taking over the deck. But in recent years, this tradition has begun to evolve into more than just standing on the wooden platform, but into painting the deck with the current senior class’s year.
In the spring of 2014, Class of 2014 alumna and then senior Hayley Tawzer decided to paint the deck as part of her 20 Percent Project, a self-directed project with a clea
r product, for Ms. Angell with the support of her senior class.
“I got the idea for painting the deck from pretty much a large percent of the 2014 senior class,” Tawzer said. “All year we [2014 seniors] would complain about how run down the deck was looking and we all really wanted to do something about that. But no one really did. So when I got the assignment… I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
For her project, Tawzer painted the deck with camouflage coloring and the year 2014 in the center in white, blending together the senior traditions of wearing camo and occupying the deck. Though her specific design was a homage to her senior class, Tawzer intended this deck painting to become a senior tradition at Paly.
“I planned for this 20 Percent project of mine to turn into a new tradition at Paly,” Tawzer said. “We were losing the tradition of streaking so I wanted to bring in a new cool tradition to the Paly seniors so they still had something fun to do … years to come could just repaint over the 2014 numbers when it came their turn.”
The senior zone continues to evolve as a source of tradition for Paly’s seniors, with each year differentiating itself from the next through the ever changing senior deck.
“[Painting the deck is] something cool that [each senior year can] do as a class,” Tawzer said. “I’m excited to see what the years [to] come do to make it their own as well.”
No Pants Day
Even with several core traditions that have persisted through numerous decades, Paly remains an innovative community that continues to create inventive traditions for the future. Just a few years ago, a student from the class of 2010 initiated the first No Pants Day, a
day in which seniors come to school with no pants, showcasing attire ranging from an oversized shirt to the classic pair of plaid boxers.
The now established tradition of No Pants Day all began with one student’s hopes of leaving a lasting impression on the Paly community. In anticipation of diverging paths after high school, students in the class of 2010 rushed to leave their marks on Paly, whether it be through memorable senior pranks or streaking. For Patrick Liu, a Paly class of 2010 alumnus, going pantless was the answer.
“Near the end of our final semester at school, the hype around senior pranks and streaking was running rampant,” Liu said. “People were ready and waiting at brunch and lunch to watch the brave and bold strut their stuff.”
Liu, too, wanted to leave his mark on Paly, but wanted to execute it in a way that was harmless, yet still preserved the lively and fun essence.
“I loved the spirit of it — everyone was ready to start their next chapter of life and wanted to leave a mark,” Liu said. “I guess I wanted to do the same without being naked or destructive, which would inevitably be something that the custodial staff would have to clean up.”
After witnessing a pantless prank online, Liu explains that a group of Paly class of 2010 students viewed No Pants Day as the perfect way to highlight senior class spirit in an innocuous manner.
“A couple friends and I were talking about [a] video of a subway prank in New York where riders would ride pantless and [we] thought it’d be fun if we brought that to Paly,” Liu said. “It was something fun that the whole class could do collectively, without anonymity, and with the added bonus of being completely harmless.”
After publicizing the event on social media, Liu was ecstatic to see many of his peers in pants-free attire, as they unified as a class to demonstrate their senior superiority.
“I put up a Facebook event a few nights before the actual day telling people not to wear pants to school,” Liu said. “And the day of, I was totally expecting to show up to school alone in my pantless-ness, but was excited to see everyone without pants on. It was great — a few other people and I were wearing Paly speedo’s; there were some great 90’s boxers out and about; I even think there was a few full suit tops and no bottoms going on. ”
Since the tradition’s inception in 2010, No Pants Day has continued to succeed every year, evolving into one of many classic senior traditions.
“I’m glad people are still doing it!” Liu said. “It’s great that the whole class can come together to do something totally ridiculous and I hope it inspires other people to come up with creative and non-destructive pranks.”
Senior Cut Day
Senior Cut Day is one of Paly’s oldest traditions, with the senior class disappearing on one day in the spring every year. Nowadays, the tradition has become such an essential part of the culture at Paly that the majority of students and staff expect one day in May to be completely senior-free.
According to Lim, Senior Cut Day was originally meant to be a senior surprise, but ultimately evolved into the tradition it is today.
“Originally, this was to be a secret, a surprise to the school staff,” Lim said. “But when academics, sports, and attendance became a huge deal, and the students still wanted to do it, then the date of Senior Cut Day became a negotiated item. It has evolved to basically a de-stress day, landing on the first full day after AP [Advanced Placement] Tests are completed.”
According to Ron Tuttle, a 1955 Paly alum, Senior Cut Day has existed since he was a high school student and likely before then as well.
“I do [remember] within the last two weeks before we graduated we did go out and have a party,” Tuttle said. “At the Pink Horse Ranch in Los Altos Hills, they had a swimming pool and we went there. I didn’t ever put it as a tradition, but that’s what the administration accepted. The things that we did might have [become] tradition[s] that carried out for years and years and years, but [at the time] it was just things that happened.”
Typical destinations have transitioned throughout the years, but many of the original locations remain popular today. According to Meri Gyves, a 1969 Paly alum and current Work Experience teacher, Santa Cruz Beach and Lake Lagunita were both common choices when she was a student.
Lim noticed that the beach has always been a typical choice.
“Because it creates a 3-day weekend, one of the most common activities was to go to the beach,” Lim said. “Now students just use [Senior Cut Day] to do whatever they want.”
Because of the precedent set by generations of Paly students, many seniors go camping or continue to go to the beach to celebrate Senior Cut Day.
From as far back as 1955 to today in 2015, Senior Cut Day has grown and developed into the established tradition it is today, as seniors congregate as a unified class and cherish the last days they have together before they part ways after graduation.
Only half of Paly’s current students have witnessed the now defunct tradition of students sprinting around campus completely naked. The last seniors to streak on campus did so on the first day of the 2013-2014 school year, and no other senior has abandoned his or her clothes on campus since. The end of streaking aligned with the start of a new administration, as current principal Kim Diorio started her tenure as principal that school year, bringing along a clearer streaking policy. Though this tradition on campus has died, streaking traces back several decades, becoming a national phenomenon in 1973 before reaching Paly.
Scattered incidents of streaking have been reported since the 1800s, but in 1973, streaking saw an exponential growth in participation. College campuses all over the United States were hit especially hard by this, with hundreds of students taking advantage of sporting events, sorority houses and all kinds of public gatherings on campus. The craze eventually reached high school campuses, taking on Paly and Henry M. Gunn High School as well as Ellwood P. Cubberley High School, another Palo Alto high school at the time,. Mathematics teacher Natalie Docktor attended Palo Alto’s Ellwood P. Cubberly High School, and witnessed many occurrences of streaking throughout her time as a student.
“[Streaking] was really casual,” Docktor said. “[Streakers] would run by [students] at lunch and [they] would just laugh; it wasn’t such a huge thing. … They [the administration] kind of turned their heads.”
Unlike the current culture, streaking was not considered a serious issue nor was it very popular before the 2000s. The generally casual attitude around streaking carried over into the actions of the administration, as they did nothing to discourage the act.
As the years passed, streaking continued its casual presence, hitting several periods of time when no students streaked, but the tradition still came back after each period of absence. In 2010, however, streaking at Paly reached a new high due to tensions between the student body and administration. The tension resulted from numerous incidents throughout the year, including Paly’s then principal Jacqueline McEvoy’s decision to suspend several students after an egg war between junior and seniors on Gunn’s campus. Mathematics teacher and 1980 Paly alumnus Arne Lim witnessed this explosive spike in streaking.
“The student body was really at odds with the administration,” Lim said. “Well over 50 students streaked that year as an act of defiance against the policies that were instituted.”
In addition to the strained relationship between the administration and students, McEvoy announced her resignation before the end of the 2010 school year. This, along with the expected departure of another administrator and the absence of administrator Jerry Berkson due to illness, made seniors more willing to take the risk, according to an article on the Paly Voice in 2010.
“I think that a lot of people were going to streak [regardless of the consequences], but even more did because the administration just didn’t seem to care that much,” an anonymous streaker said in an interview with the Paly Voice.
Streaking then continued at a consistent pace after the resignation of McEvoy, when Phil Winston was introduced as the new principal of Paly. However, ever since the first day of the 2013-2014 school year, streaking has vanished from the Paly campus.
Just hours after the last Paly streakers made their way across campus that day, Diorio sent out an email to parents clearly stating the consequences of streaking. Diorio explained that in the past, “consequences may not have been applied consistently nor made clear to students, which has only made the situation worse over time,” but from that point forward, consequences “will include suspension from school and a conference with our Palo Alto Police Department School Resource Officer.”
Diorio’s message marked a change in the way the administration addressed streaking, demonstrating a shift in the views of today’s community. What used to be seen as a harmless and laughable activity has evolved into an offensive and sexually harassing act. The change in the administration’s attitude toward streaking followed a change in what the community sees as appropriate, leading to the end of one of Paly’s longest standing traditions.
“In the previous years, it [streaking] really didn’t upset anybody. But now it does,” Docktor said. “Our whole culture has changed, that’s why the administration had to change. … It [streaking] just can’t be done.”