Pranks, of Varying Cleverness, Range From Naked Shapes to Smashed Bananas

The fine art of pranking at Phillips Academy has degenerated over the years, though the spirit of pulling pranks lives on, according to Ruth Quattlebaum, the school’s archivist. Quattlebaum said, “Pranks have become decreasingly witty and clever… Since co-education, pranks have become more destructive.” Other faculty members agreed that good pranks have become rarer over the years. Peter Washburn, Cluster Dean of West Quad South, said, “Coming up with clever pranks has become harder and harder. Our sensitivities have been heightened, and we are now much more aware of offensiveness.” Marlys Edwards, Dean of Students and Residential Life, said, “It’s important to realize that our students are very clever, but it is also important for students to think hard before pulling a prank.” In the legendary prank of 1974, Steve Miller ’74 organized a group of 30 students to spell out the words “MOTHER PHILLIPS” with their naked bodies at the base of Holt Hill Ski Jump. The prank was elaborately executed and became a milestone of the first co-ed senior class to graduate. A photograph of this prank was added to the Class of ’74 Yearbook as a removable insert. In a letter to Quattlebaum, Miller wrote about his role as the photographer, saying that the process was “strictly professional.” He also said that he had four laminated posters of the event, which he refers to as his “set of dinner placemats.” Roger C. Kiley ’40 was responsible for another notable prank. Among Kiley’s multiple pranks, his most memorable was the creation of a fictional character, A. Montague Fitzpatrick, who supposedly attended Phillips Academy. The prank included a forged class schedule, clothes left around campus labeled with Fitzpatrick’s name and letters to the school from Fitzpatrick’s parents. Nowadays, pulling off such a prank can be more perilous – due to varying administrative responses. The Blue Book does not contain a specific explanatory category for dealing with pranks. Washburn said, “Each prank is evaluated on an individual basis.” “Discipline is necessary when somebody or something is harmed. Once damage is done, physical or emotional, then it’s no longer a prank. It becomes harassment and vandalism, but there’s a fine line,” Washburn said. He continued, “What’s funny between friends might really inconvenience or offend someone else.” There are often consequences that pranksters do not foresee. In some cases, there may even be hazards. Edwards said, “Our faculty has an accepting sense of humor. As long as there is no disruption of schedules or destruction to property, I believe good-natured pranks are well-received at our school.” Several years ago, students smeared ripe, smashed bananas all over the back staircase in Commons. Edwards said about this prank, “It created a tremendous waste of food and people work. No one admitted to this prank, since there was such a strong response from the school. This prank was truly arrogant and disappointing.” The most recent major prank was last year’s Head of School Day prank. Dougal Sutherland ’07, the executor of the Head of School Day prank, said, “I don’t think the administration responded well by cancelling Head of School [Day] two days after the prank and moving it to the week after. It left many students upset for a whole week.” Sutherland received probation for dishonesty as a result of the prank. “I understand where they were coming from, but I still feel it was a little much. I was mainly worried about getting revoked from Swarthmore, since it was too late to apply to other places,” said Sutherland, currently a student at Swarthmore College. He continued, “I was specifically told that if I hadn’t turned myself in, then I would have at least been suspended. Luckily, [I was not expelled].” Though most students knew of Sutherland’s involvement in the prank, another student, Arjun Sharma ’07, was also involved. “The school still officially knows nothing [of Sharma’s participation in the prank]. I’ve only ever told Carlos Hoyt in a confidential meeting that someone else had been involved,” Sutherland said. Sharma said, “I figure that a year after the incident, and eight months after graduation, would be a good time to clarify what exactly happened and tell you my side, the lesser known side, of the story.” “I was involved in the prank enough that I could probably have gotten in some trouble. However, Dougal was the only person who could be traced to it, and so after a private discussion we had, it was decided that he would turn himself in,” Sharma continued. Though the prank had been conducted with Sharma’s knowledge, support and assistance in researching information and planning of the prank, it was executed on Sutherland’s computer, through Sutherland’s account on an external server, and with Sutherland’s knowledge of the Ruby programming language. No hacking was involved in this prank. “The days [after the prank] were a whirlwind. Dougal and I, of course, said nothing, and while we were worried about what might happen to us, we also enjoyed the debating we had caused around campus,” Sharma said. Sharma expressed his opinions about the Head of School Day prank in the Emergency Philo-Forum last year and also wrote a commentary article for The Phillipian. Washburn said, “Sometimes a prank happens that is okay, and we have the means to find out who did it, but it’s not worth time and effort. However, if the prank needs response, then the time and effort [to track down perpetrators] is worth it.” He added, “To some extent, the response may depend on who the prank was directed towards and how they reacted. You have to take all that into account. Even if the same prank pulled before didn’t matter, doesn’t mean that it will always be okay under different circumstances.” Our peer schools, such as Exeter, have similar attitudes towards pranks. Edouard Desrochers, Assistant Librarian and Academy Archivist at Phillips Exeter Academy, said, “Over the last couple of years, there has been more consciousness of pranks not being funny, especially if it results in a person or particular group of people being harmed. Pranks that ultimately cost lots of money for the school are discouraged.” “Malicious pranks are frowned upon, while clever pranks are still okay as long as students are willing to ’fess up and undo whatever they did,” Desrochers added. In one Senior prank at Exeter, students took chairs from classrooms and recreated Harkness tables around campus, said Desrochers. Phillips Academy students pulled a similar prank, in which students moved furniture from Sam Phil to the Great Lawn. In both cases, there was minimal damage and disruption, since the students involved were willing to move all the furniture back. The high holidays of pranking often fall during Andover/Exeter events. In a prank in 1976, Andover students, pretending to be Phillipian reporters, pied Exeter’s head of school while both school heads took part the ritual handshake to initiate the Andover/Exeter games. In a well-known prank of 1988, Andover students released blue mice in the Exeter library. One year, Andover students also put helium balloon, posters, and banners on signs all along the road on the way to Exeter. Edwards said, “It really pumped students up on the buses seeing all those balloons, but my fear was the danger of students being on the side of a major highway. Though this was not really a prank, it most likely took lots of time to do and plan, and it was better than destruction.” In the past, Exeter students have put Big Red gum wrappers all around the Andover campus and have sent huge cases of red M&Ms to Andover.