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The 7 Most Infamous College Traditions

While some things—nudity, free food, relieving stress in loud, dangerous, or otherwise inappropriate ways—are keystones of every college experience, these seven traditions have gained notoriety for encouraging students to bike, smoke, and streak their way to collegiette infamy.  We already gave you a list of things every college student should do before graduation, but consider these traditions the A-team.  The Varsity starters.  The executive board of the “college experience” club.  Warning: the following traditions may cause excessive pride, jealousy, and/or embarrassment.

Mirror Lake Jump — Ohio State University

You’d have to be a nut to jump into a frozen lake… or at least a Buckeye.  On the eve of the Ohio State vs. Michigan football game, thousands of students shed their scarlet and grey and make a pilgrimage to Mirror Lake, whereupon the bravest (also see: dumbest) jump in.  Along with hypothermia, frostbite, and countless cases of the common cold, some swear that the annual jump is partially responsible for Ohio State’s seven-game winning streak against the Wolverines.  (Although doctors, nervous administrators and concerned parents are convinced there is no correlation.)

Marathon Monday — Boston University

For runners, the third Monday in April, the day of the Boston Marathon, marks the high point in a career of grueling physical strain and unwavering mental determination; for BU students, the marathon marks the high point of the social season.  Thanks to a bogus holiday (“Patriot’s Day”—a commemoration of the battles of Lexington and Concord?) Bostonians have the day off to throw parties, cheer for the runners, and roam the warming streets. 5:30am wake-up calls, pre-marathon beer-pong marathons and waffle breakfasts at sunrise start the day’s festivities, and the fun doesn’t stop until the last runner crosses the finish line.  (Which BU students assume happens sometime early the next morning…)

Hash Bash — The University of Michigan

Every spring, thousands of Michigan students join the left-wing, hippie community of Ann Arbor for a joyful celebration of, well, pot. Crowds gather on the Diag with “Legalize Mary Jane” banners, music plays, tie-dye is worn, paraphernalia is sold, and the only thing more prevalent than Bob Marley t-shirts is the smell of marijuana.  Since medical marijuana is legal in the state and possession is only a civil infraction (when the possession is not on university property), there’s not a whole lot to kill the collective buzz.  Add good weather and baked goods, and you have a foolproof recipe for an infamous college tradition.


Pumpkin Drop – MIT

If you drop a pumpkin from the top of a roof, what is the radius of the impact?  The equation probably doesn’t even make sense, but it’s not supposed to; at least once a year, on Halloween, MIT students are encouraged to forget about the physics of falling objects and just drop pumpkins off of a roof.  And leave it to your smartest classmates to do it right: frozen pumpkins are hurled (often to orchestration) off the Green Building—the tallest building in Cambridge. Nothing says “Happy Halloween”—or “Infamous College Tradition”—like a torrent of plummeting pumpkins.

Spring Fling — The University of Pennsylvania

I know what you’re thinking: “My school has a Spring Fling, too!” But not like Penn’s.  Students from all across the East Coast flock to Philly at the end of the spring semester to take part in a festival that has been putting even state schools to shame since 1973.  Musical performances from artists ranging from Snoop Dogg to Ben Folds, free food, carnival games, and lots and lots of drunken debauchery make Penn a temporary hotbed of smart, intoxicated, “we’re-fun-for-a-weekend!” undergrads.

Little Five — Indiana University

The Little 500, popularly dubbed ‘little five’, is the largest collegiate bike race in the US and the biggest intramural event at IU…but that makes it sound like something you’d want to bring your grandma to. What started in 1951 as a simple four-person relay race has turned into a full week of concerts, events, and round-the-clock parties; the actual race has become the icing on a very rowdy, very competitive, very Greek cake.  Modeled after the Indy 500, Little Five week holds a dual title: crazy college tradition, and the closest any event has ever come to making NASCAR cool.

Ditch Day — California Institute of Technology

What separates CalTech’s legendary Ditch Day from your high school’s Senior Skip Day is key: puzzles.  Once a year, seniors vanish from campus and leave underclassmen elaborate mind games so that, according to campus myth, the underclassmen are occupied and the seniors’ rooms are safe from underclass intruders when they make the mass migration off campus.  In true CalTech form, the puzzles aren’t your average jigsaw; they’re complicated problems that only genius engineering nerds could conjure (much less solve…).  The day is also full of pranks, science jokes, and general rowdiness.  Oh, engineers…

Rachel Peck is a senior at Barnard College, Class of 2012, where she is majoring in English and Theatre and minoring in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Although she admits to actually enjoying high school in her hometown of Bexley, OH, her favorite thing to do is explore her new--slightly more exciting--home, New York City. When she isn't watching good (and bad...) TV, finding excuses to plan dinner with friends, window shopping, or napping, Rachel enjoys working for the Barnard admissions office, serving on her sorority's various boards, and writing for whoever will read it.  You can also follow her on Twitter (@peckrachel) if you're into that.
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