Holy Cow! A History of Senior Pranks at Lawrenceville

As the school year comes to a close, Lawrentians can’t help but wonder what mark this year’s graduating class will leave behind, especially during this term of distance learning.

As the school year comes to a close, Lawrentians can’t help but wonder what mark this year’s graduating class will leave behind, especially during this term of distance learning. We have all heard whispers of infamous senior pranks at the School, but a couple years have passed since the V Form has last completed this “rite of passage.” English Master Franklin Hedberg H’03 P’96 ’00 said, “The senior prank [was] like the final graduation requirement,” as V Formers prepared to say goodbye to Lawrenceville. Since 2012, sightings of mischievous acts committed by the graduating class have fizzled out, but the memory and spirit of senior pranks are nevertheless integral to Lawrenceville’s history.

History and Economics Master Regan Kerney H’49 ’95 ’98 ’99 ’03 ’11 believes that the pranks “fell essentially into three catagories, like a pyramid,” in which the top included the rare, original, and clever plans, while the bottom represented the most common, troublesome, and costly ones. The pranks remembered to this day primarily fell on the extremes of this spectrum, and the wittiest ideas remain a source of pride and joy for the community.

In 1968, the Housemasters of Upper House waking up in a panic after finding out that the entire senior class had “simply floated out of the dormitories,” as English Master Champ Atlee ’62 H’74 ’75 ’79 ’83 ’84 ’87 ’89 ’06 P’92 recalled. Following strict protocol to reduce their chances of getting caught, they escaped on buses to the beaches of Atlantic City and later sent a telegram to the Head Master’s office, saying, “Wish you were here.”

In the early 1980s, a particularly notable prank brought harmless entertainment to campus during morning rush hour. It was these borderline extreme tricks that were the most inventive and unique, while still being within the range of the school rules. Atlee was teaching his Law as Literature class in Woods Memorial Hall when he suddenly noticed a semi-trailer truck inch past his classroom window. He initially thought, “The guy just got lost looking for Buildings and Grounds.” However, it wasn’t until he noticed more and more trucks passing his classroom that he realized the V Form class had diverted traffic from Route 206 through campus via the Baker Gate. The students had put up signs on the highway to inform vehicles of “construction,” bringing an amusing sense of confusion on campus. Kerney recalled that the faculty thought it was “highly imaginative and low impact.” Although the highway was not as busy, it took quite a long time to guide the perplexed drivers back to Route 206.

On the other hand, the Class of 1989 executed a plan that teetered on the edge of delightfully witty and inappropriately disruptive. During Spring Finals Week, Lawrentians encountered a surprise in the Field House: every exam chair chained together and locked up, just in time for finals. While exams went on as scheduled, students were forced to take them lying down on the ground. “I just remember being 100 percent uncomfortable but enjoying my exam,” Hanewald said. The students’ perspectives drastically differed from that of the faculty and staff, though. History Master Kris Schulte P’15 thought that it greatly inconvenienced the underformers and “caused the maintenance staff to have to do a lot of work” afterwards.

While the Class of 1989’s antics received mixed reviews, the Class of 1992 is remembered for accomplishing one of the most remarkable pranks in Lawrenceville history, lauded by both students and faculty alike. In the fifth year of coeducation at Lawrenceville, a group of girls from the Reynolds House stole stationary from the office of then Head Master Josiah Bunting III H’37 ’59 ’88 ’91 P’88 ’97, along with a parent directory, and sent out a letter stating that the School was rescinding coeducation. The group spent weeks studying Bunting’s style of writing to create a perfectly believable letter, and needless to say, the students’ hard work paid off. According to Leslie Wickham ’92 P’22 who participated in the prank, the letter “hit the East Coast first and then the Midwest and then California, so calls were coming into the office for almost a full week.” In 2017, Head Master Murray H’55 ’65 ’16 P’16 ’21 granted “full pardon, clemency and amnesty to all participants” 25 years after the prank, recognizing the “creativity and teamwork” that was needed to make that prank so successful.

However, after consecutive years of several destructive pranks, in 2012, Mathematics Master Nancy Thomas H’01 P’04 ’07, the former Dean of Students, implemented the tradition of Senior Skip Day in 2012. Dean of Students Blake Eldridge, Jr. ’96 H’12 noted that the introduction of Senior Skip Day wasn’t an exchange for senior pranks, but rather, a better use of time for both faculty and students.

That being said, Eldridge acknowledged that “the best pranks were those that challenged people’s assumptions, drew them out of their mundane habits, or repurposed various features of campus.” While over the past few years, senior pranks have not drawn the same level of attention as they have in the past, it’s only a matter of time until students devise a memorable prank that surpasses the gold standard set by previous graduating classes.

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