As the school year draws to a close, dozens of members of the Berkeley High School class of 2003 are preparing to take part in a tradition less formal but just as storied as the classic rites of prom and commencement.
Before the year is over, some graduating seniors will run naked through the crowded Berkeley High courtyard in the annual “Senior Streak” during the school’s lunch period. The tradition, which most seniors said would happen during the next week, is intended as a final act of rebellion after a year that typically features several senior class pranks.
Although the origins of the ritual are unknown, Berkeley High biology teacher Alex Panasenko, who has taught at the high school for over 30 years, said the streak has been happening at least since he began his career at Berkeley High.
For the second year, Berkeley administrators are trying to end the streak.
Last year several seniors who were identified while running were suspended from school for one day. Berkeley High co-principal Mary Ann Valles said only a few participants were suspended because it was difficult for administrators to recognize individual students. Many streaking seniors wear masks, and little else, during the sprint across the quad.
Valles said that students identified during this year’s run would be subject to consequences including suspension, expulsion, financial remuneration and/or exclusion from senior prom.
“We will suspend anyone we can identify,” she said. “We’ll consider further consequences on a case-by-case basis after that.”
In the weekly letter from co-principals Valles and Laura Leventer on Monday, June 2, parents were urged to encourage their children not to streak or stage other pranks.
“It is completely inappropriate, in a year of serious budget crisis, for us to focus our time, staff resources and money cleaning up after or monitoring such events,” the memo read. “Every year a student who is streaking gets injured from falling down.”
Last year, Berkeley High senior Sam Shonkoff injured his ankle when he fell while running through the courtyard. Shonkoff was not suspended, but participated in graduation on crutches.
Panasenko said that Leventer and Valles, who began serving as co-principals in November 2001, were the first principals he remembered that had suspended students who participated in the streak. He said although most former administrators had threatened disciplinary action, they had not followed through.
Philip Chan, a 2002 graduate—now a freshman at Carleton College—who was suspended after last year’s senior streak, said he did not think that streak participants should be subject to disciplinary action.
“It’s tradition, and it’s fun, and there’s nothing really wrong with it,” Chan said. “Running naked is not that big of a deal, so suspending kids seems a little ridiculous.”
This year, many seniors said they planned to streak despite last year’s suspensions and this year’s threats. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, said the likelihood of being caught was small.
“Last year they got three kids out of 40 or 50,” he said. “I’m a fast runner; they’re not going to see who I am.”
Other students expressed resentment that the co-principals are attempting to stifle a tradition that is older than the seniors themselves.
“My dad graduated from Berkeley High, and he streaked in 1968,” one senior said. “I don’t buy the argument that people are offended by us running naked and that it disrupts the learning environment.”
Most students and administrators agreed that, despite the warnings, the annual event would likely continue.
“I do expect we’ll see it happen this year,” Valles said.