Senior Season: a deep dive into the history behind KO’s unique senior traditions

Investigative

As a private school that dates back to the early 1920s, Kingswood Oxford is full of unique traditions and fascinating history. Although these school traditions have evolved over the years and new traditions have been added, many of the unique traditions from the original Kingswood and Oxford schools are still practiced today at Kingswood Oxford. 

One of the most important senior traditions at KO dates back to 1922 at the Kingswood School when the first commencement ceremony took place with two graduates at the Mark Twain house. Since then, the number of graduates has grown to around 90, and the ceremony is held on our current campus. Before 1936, the commencement ceremony was usually held in Alumni Hall, but this year marked a turning point – when the first outdoor graduation took place. Ever since then, commencement has taken place on the senior green and, in case of inclement weather, inside the former hockey rink, now the field house. 

Unlike most other high schools, graduates at Kingswood Oxford do not wear gowns and caps during commencement. Rather, the girls wear white dresses and carry roses while the boys don a suit and tie. Something truly unique to Kingswood Oxford is that at graduation every member of the senior class shakes the hand of all the faculty members at the school before they can officially call themselves alumni. “I think it’s so cool how we walk out to bagpipes and classy that we wear white dresses and the boys wear matching ties, and incredibly special that we shake each teacher’s hand before officially graduating,” senior Mackenzie Caruso said. 

Another aspect of graduation that distinguishes it from other schools is that Kingswood Oxford students graduate on the Friday of Memorial Day instead of in early June when the school year officially ends. This tradition stems from the fact that seniors no longer have to take final exams like they used to. This means that the seniors are done around a week before the rest of the school and can thus graduate earlier. This also enables the underclassmen to focus on studying for their finals rather than being distracted by seniors on campus who do not really have anything academically productive to do. 

Like many other high schools, every year Kingswood Oxford has a graduation speaker at commencement who addresses the senior class. However, rather than inviting a speaker from outside of the school community to make an address at commencement, the seniors vote to select a faculty member whom they would like to hear from at graduation. This was not always the case though, since in the early days of the school, Kingswood Oxford used to invite other speakers for graduation just like at public schools. “[I think] it’s more meaningful to the class because they know the person and they’ve chosen to have them speak,”  long-time history history teacher Rob Kyff explained. 

Another long-standing tradition for the seniors at Kingswood Oxford is Class Night, which is held the night before graduation when seniors showcase their talents to their peers. Additionally, the female seniors each receive a bracelet while the males are given a Kingswood Oxford tie. All members of the senior and junior classes are expected to attend this event. Before the days of the annual Prize Assembly, awards were given out to the juniors and seniors at Class Night. However, giving out awards at Class Night created a lot of tension among the students on a night that should be a joyful celebration for the seniors. As a result, administration decided to no longer give out awards at Class Night and created the Prize Assembly instead. “It really changed the nature of Class Night and made it more relaxed and fun,” Mr. Kyff said.

One senior tradition that has been a part of the school as long as anyone can remember is the tradition of the senior green. Every Kingswood Oxford student knows that the large expanse of grassy lawn in the center of campus is reserved for seniors only. Back during the early days of the school, seniors would physically attack underclassmen if they set foot on the senior green. Students were strung up the flagpole, and one student even broke his arm while being pursued by an angry senior. Underclassmen are still not allowed on the senior green, but if they do accidentally walk across it, the worst that will happen is an annoyed comment shouted their way by a senior. Some underclassmen think that the senior green should be eliminated, claiming that it is an inconvenience to walk around it to get to class, but many current and past seniors value it. “It’s something I’ve looked forward to and has definitely been worth the wait,” Mackenzie said, having recently spent over an hour on the senior green playing games and hanging out with friends. 

Although it is a fairly new tradition at Kingswood Oxford, the 100 Day Breakfast is another tradition that is a staple for seniors. It is a special breakfast organized by the Parent Association usually sometime in February that marks that there are 100 days left until graduation. This event is a great bonding experience for seniors, as it begins to sink in that their days left at Kingswood Oxford are numbered. “It was such a special event that our school put on for us, and I’ve never experienced anything like it,” Mackenzie said. “We had an awesome guest speaker, and it really showed how much KO cares about us seniors.” 

Senior prom is another senior tradition at Kingswood Oxford that stands out from other schools not because of the event itself, but rather because of the fascinating history behind the event. “For both Kingswood and Oxford, there was a big dance that happened for the seniors, which over time became our senior prom,” Kingswood Oxford archivist Brenda Semmelrock explained. 

Another unusual aspect about senior prom is that it is held on the Sunday before graduation. Most schools host their proms on either Friday or Saturday, but for Kingswood Oxford, that did not really work out well since many athletic teams had competitions on Saturday. Mr. Kyff even recounted that some of the softball players used to play their game the day of prom with curlers in their hair. In order to solve this problem, the senior prom was then moved to Sunday, a day when athletic competitions are not a factor. 

One of the senior traditions at Kingswood Oxford that is responsible for many hilarious stories is the senior prank. Over the years, seniors have traditionally designed a prank to pull off the week before graduation. Some of the most memorable senior pranks include releasing a live pig in Roberts, filling a room in the House with paper, and replacing the retired faculty photographs in the Upper Roberts hallway with senior pictures. Most recently, the seniors in the class of 2021 moved all the furniture in Director of Upper School Dan Gleason’s office onto the senior green where it remained for the whole day. 

Over the years, these numerous traditions at Kingswood Oxford have impacted the seniors in various ways and provided the school with countless, long-lasting memories. “I think [the seniors] make really special memories,” Ms. Semmelrock said. “When you get older, you have the tendency to think back about those memories more than you do right after graduation.” Senior traditions are a significant piece of the KO experience, leaving alumni with memories that they will cherish forever.