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Some college graduation traditions resemble circus acts more than the activities of venerable college graduates.
What will you remember best about college graduation? A sea of black caps and gowns, droning speakers, long receptions, teary-eyed parents? At some schools, it’s more likely to be soaking wet art students, flying wristwatches or piles of green apples.
More than 1400 college commencement ceremonies — most nearly indistinguishable from one another — will take place in the next month. But some colleges have managed to inject wacky and bizarre traditions into the time-honored ritual.
At NYU, hundreds of students jump into a Washington Square Park fountain as their degrees are conferred. At Yale, the university gives every senior a clay pipe and a packet of tobacco. At Wellesley, the graduating class holds a big hooprolling race.
Many commencement traditions started in the days when foppish WASPs dominated the nation’s universities. Yale’s pipe and tobacco tradition, for instance, comes from the 1860s. As recorded by Lymon Boggs, class of 1869, the graduating men would form a ring, smoke their pipes, then do a “stag dance” and crush the pipes under their feet “as a sign that the pleasures of college life were ended.”
Although some students still smoke these “churchwarden’s pipes” during commencement weekend, the stag dance has been lost in the modern translation. Today’s Yalies are more likely to protest the school’s tobacco stockholdings than smoke pipes. “I couldn’t really partake because every time I try to inhale cigarettes or anything, I can’t do it,” said Eileen Yam a recent graduate.
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