The Origins Of 12 US High School Traditions

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Over 200 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Origins Of 12 US High School Traditions
Voting Rules
Vote up the traditions you kinda miss.

High school is a unique period in the life of an American teenager, rife with age-old traditions. Like the high school experience itself, some of these traditions are beloved while others are loathed. Yet, have you ever stopped to wonder why something is a tradition, or when it became one?

Read on to learn everything about the origins of US high school traditions, and vote up the facts that have you feeling nostalgic for high school. 


  • 1
    226 VOTES

    Senior Skip Day, Or Ditch Day, Can Be Tracked Back To The 1920s

    Senior Skip Day is known by many names. Some of these include Ditch Day, Cut Day, and Senior Day, and the day's origins can be traced back to the 1920s by some universities like Caltech

    Unsurprisingly, like other activities started at universities, Skip Day became a high school tradition at some point in time, and it's difficult to pinpoint when it crossed over. This is a date, usually occurring after a popular event like homecoming or prom, or falling after exams, when seniors skip school en masse. 

    Although some schools don't encourage seniors to participate, others do and even help seniors plan the day so no important tests or school activities are missed. 

    226 votes
  • The First Pep Rally Was Held At A University In 1935 Before Widespread Adoption By High Schools
    Photo: Zoe / Flickr / CC-BY 2.0
    2
    171 VOTES

    The First Pep Rally Was Held At A University In 1935 Before Widespread Adoption By High Schools

    Depending on how much “school spirit” you had, you may remember pep rallies as either an exciting diversion from class or an exhausting exercise in tedium. Most secondary education institutions hold multiple pep rallies throughout the US each year. 

    Although the origins of pep rallies as a high school tradition are murky, its thought that the first record of a school pep rally occurred in 1935 at Schreiner University in the heart of Texas Hill Country. Like many traditions on this list, the event was later adopted by high schools.

    171 votes
  • 3
    198 VOTES

    Prom Is Short For 'Promenade,' And Dates Back To The 19th Century

    Yes, prom is older than sliced bread, which hit shelves in 1928. Prom is short for “promenade,” which is defined as “the formal, introductory parading of guests at a party.” Colleges and universities introduced this event in the mid- to late 1800s to promote manners and social etiquette. 

    There are numerous accounts in diary entries recounting prom nights, but it wasn't until the turn of the century during the early 1900s that it became a popular annual event at high schools. By the 1930s, it was a nationwide event, with the first book titled The Junior-Senior Prom: Complete Practical Suggestions for Staging the Junior-Senior Prom, published in 1936, that discussed how to host the perfect prom.

    One lucky school even had the honor of hosting their prom at the White House in 1975, thanks to Susan Ford, the daughter of President Gerald Ford.

    198 votes
  • 4
    175 VOTES

    The Graduation Tune 'Pomp And Circumstance' Was Originally Composed For The Coronation Of King Edward VII

    At the end of the school year, high school seniors put on their caps and gowns and receive their diplomas to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance.” This well-known graduation tune was initially performed to honor King Edward VII of Great Britain at his coronation in 1902. 

    The tune made its debut in the US at a graduation ceremony in 1905 when Yale gave an honorary degree to the song's composer Edward Elgar. After playing at this graduation ceremony, it quickly spread like wildfire, and other universities, colleges, and high schools began using it.

    175 votes
  • 5
    147 VOTES

    Camera Day, Senior Picnics, Class Plays, And Other Senior Activities Began In The Early To Mid-1930s

    Since the 1930s, senior activities at high schools and colleges have changed a fair bit, and picture days, school plays, and senior picnics don't look how they used to in the modern era. 

    For example, in the '30s, in Wisconsin, it's recorded that about 90% of schools held senior class plays, 56% had a senior picnic, 27% held a senior trip, and 41% held a junior-senior banquet. Unfortunately, most of these activities are not as common as they once were. 

    Many high schools still have these traditions, though many have been revamped for modern times.

    147 votes
  • 6
    167 VOTES

    Senior Pranks Date Back To At Least 1936

    Nearly every high school in the US experiences (or is plagued by) senior pranks. Some are mundane, pulled off by only a few individuals, while others involve a whole senior class planning an act of collective mischief.

    There are two rules of etiquette (not always followed) regarding the senior prank: nothing can be stolen and school property can't be damaged. For example, some senior pranks have wrapped teachers' vehicles in cling wrap, making it almost impossible for them to get into their cars. Other pranks have involved putting objects in odd places, like a 6-foot Micky Mouse figure in the school chapel. 

    It is not known precisely when senior pranks became a tradition, but some high schools like Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut can trace their senior prank tradition back to 1936.

    167 votes