When Dylan Wan ’18 emerged from the Head Prefect election assembly March 23, he immediately noticed that his backpack was not in the same location as he had originally left it. Making his way through the crowd of jostling students, he finally came upon a massive heap of backpacks piled in front of the cafeteria — a senior prank from the graduating class.
Despite having their backpacks stolen and relocated, Wan and his friends considered the prank funny, not annoying.
“It took a little bit longer to find my backpack, but it wasn’t that much of an inconvenience,” he said.
When he becomes a senior one day, he too, will want to organize a class prank, he said.
“I thought it was creative and overall a good prank,” he said.
Senior pranks are organized by the senior class usually towards the end of a school year in order to leave a memorable mark on the school. The backpack prank occurred in March to take advantage of one of the only school assemblies seniors don’t attend.
Almost every year, seniors plan certain days where they will make water balloons to throw at juniors and sophomore on the quad, as well as bringing water guns to shoot at underclassmen.
Generally meant to be harmless and funny, these stunts have become an annual tradition for graduating students.
In previous years, seniors have put goldfish in bathroom sinks and built walls in Chalmers Hall to blockade entrances. One year, right before finals, seniors closed off a part of Coldwater Canyon Avenue with road closure signs to delay exams.
Assistant to the Head of Upper School Michelle Bracken remembers a notable prank in which seniors placed a DVD player looping a pornographic audio clip in a Chalmers locker. According to Bracken, math teachers and students were baffled by the mysterious source of the moaning and heavy breathing noises.
To Bracken, the most important factor to consider when organizing a prank is the amount of cleanup required afterwards. She said she considers senior pranks to be funny as long as they are harmless and don’t require somebody else to work to clean up. In her opinion, pranks are fine as long as they are creative and innocuous.
“I get that kids want to do something that’s fun, but I don’t think it would be fair for our maintenance crew to have to clean up afterwards,” Bracken said.
Most of the time, seniors do not seek out the approval of teachers and deans before pulling a prank. However students occasionally ask Bracken for her opinion.
“Seniors have had ideas of doing things which I think would be hilarious, like getting a mariachi band to follow Mr. Barzdukas around and have them play whenever he starts to talk,” she said. “I mean it would be hilarious. There are things like that that are harmless that would be very funny, but most of the time students just never follow through with [their ideas].”
Usually when students approach Bracken, she is glad to help as long as the ideas are practical, she said.
“Students have come to me with these ideas and said, ‘Could we do this, would you help us?’, and I’m like, ‘Absolutely,’ because it’s harmless, and if it’s a great idea, I’ll do whatever I can,” she said.
This year’s senior class created a Facebook group dedicated to brainstorming ideas for pranks. Although there were numerous suggestions, very few were carried out.
“Yes, we have talked and discussed our class pranks on our Facebook group, but they never came into fruition because it was just us really being silly, and I think that by having a Facebook group we bonded and just had a lot of fun,” Rachel Porter ’16 said.
Porter believes that despite its lack of successful pranks, the Facebook group provided a positive environment.
“It was more of getting together and imagining a kind of fun. I think that more senior classes should do this in the future,” Porter said.
The “backpack mountain,” originally nicknamed “backpack island,” was one idea that originated in the Facebook group, except the plan was to inflate a yellow raft, place as many backpacks as possible onto it and set it adrift in the school swimming pool.
“I came up with backpack island after watching an old Truffaut movie with my friends where these businessmen essentially made a briefcase island,” said Jack Stovitz ’16, the creator and organizer of backpack mountain. “We thought it was hilarious, and I decided to tweak the idea to make it work for backpacks.”
However, on the day of execution, the raft would not inflate in a timely manner due to a pump malfunction and the fact that it was too large to inflate by mouth, Stovitz said.
“This was very upsetting because I spent a lot of money on the raft,” he said. “I had kept backpack island a secret anyway, in order to discreetly sneak my raft into the pool, so no one knew we failed,” he said. “We ditched backpack island and at the last minute came up with backpack mountain. Overall, I think it still went really well and was very effective.”
Stovitz acknowledged that most of the ideas posed on Facebook never came into fruition because they were not serious or thought out well enough to be successful pranks.
“A lot of the ideas suggested on the prank Facebook page were jokes,” Stovitz said. “Most of the ideas that had real potential were orally communicated to me, but a lot of these pranks seemed like they might lead to excessive mischief, and I didn’t want to get in trouble, so many were not executed.”
Bracken believes the decrease in successful senior pranks is due to better security.
“Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have the security that we have now,” she said. “So it was a little bit easier to get on and off campus without people knowing. Now it’s much more difficult to sneak around and try to get on campus. So that’s why in recent years we haven’t had quite as many.”
In past years, many students have also approached Chaplain J. Young with ideas for senior pranks and have asked him how he thinks the school’s administration would respond to these stunts.
“I love a good senior prank, and I wish we had more, as long as they are healthy and don’t destroy property or don’t make other people clean up a big mess or don’t hurt anybody,” he said.
Pranks can be a fun and inclusive way for seniors to bond, he said.
“I think a good, healthy prank could actually have a positive effect [by] unifying the class and building and creating community,” he said. “I think it’s totally possible to pull off a good, healthy, senior prank, and I love it.”