AJC.com has a great story this evening on senior pranks, which are now apparently a national rite of passage for graduating high school students.
(Check out this brand new story on the AJC.com site about a Connecticut high school that discovered pygmy goats on its roof this morning, assumed to be the work of pranksters. Schools are still in session in the Northeast so their prank season is still in progress.)
When I moved South, I was surprised at two things related to pranks: Kids didn’t do them on the night before Halloween. In New Jersey, Mischief Night, as it is called, has escalated into a dangerous evening of fires and vandalism so I was delighted to find that the unfortunate tradition had not crossed the Mason-Dixon line.
However, teens here engaged in graduation pranks, something I had not seen as a high schooler. I was well aware of college graduation pranks — I am a fan of the famed MIT pranks — but not organized high school romps.
As we saw recently, some of those romps go bad, as was the case in East Paulding where seniors went too far with their spray paint.
For high school seniors, it’s prank time — or “structured mayhem” in the words of Mindy Utay, a therapist who works with teens. It’s a rite of passage as graduation looms, mostly harmless fun but sometimes a escalating into vandalism. This spring alone, windows at school have been smashed, walls and sidewalks spray painted, and paint poured down steps. Cars have been flipped. Property has been damaged from California to Kentucky to Maryland. (And Georgia.)
As a result, school administrators are rethinking exactly what constitutes a prank and where to draw the line — and finding that’s not always easy to do. This year, the rule at Kenowa Hills High School in Walker, Mich., was clear: No senior pranks allowed.
But organizing themselves on Facebook, a group of graduating seniors there decided to ride bicycles, en masse, on the last day of school. They arranged for a police escort along the 3-mile route. The mayor even brought them doughnuts before they headed out to what was supposed to be a funny surprise for everyone else at school. The principal was not amused.
She thought the students had put themselves in danger by riding along a busy thoroughfare. Traffic was disrupted. Drivers caught up in it, including some teachers, were late for work. In the principal’s mind, the seniors had broken the “no pranks” rule, and she came down hard.
“But we didn’t really see it as a prank. We saw it more as a senior send-off,” says Sarah Pechumer, one of the 65 graduating students who participated. “It was harmless. It was arranged. It was legal.”
And in the rowdy history of senior pranks, it was relatively benign. Recall the letter sent to parents at California’s San Dieguito Academy in 2006, informing them that henceforth condoms would be distributed to students at all dances. Or the night at New York’s Nyack High School, when seniors — with the blessing of their principal — arranged 1,000 school desks on a field to spell out “2008.” Then, under cover of darkness, other pranksters (perhaps from the Class of 2009) re-arranged the desks in the shape of a giant penis.
“As long as it doesn’t get out of control, I think it is healthy,” says Utay, a therapist and clinical social worker in private practice in Manhattan. “It’s something they look forward to after all the pressure — a chance to take back some of the control. It’s rebellion against that pressure, empowerment. It marks the end of the high school experience.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog