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AHS tradition lost over time

By Lucy Peng

This AHS seal greets all who enter the main building from the front door. Photo by Alanna Greene
This AHS seal greets all who enter the main building from the front door.
Photo by Alanna Greene

Imagine it is the year 1979.

As the morning bell rings, students rushing on Encinal Avenue pour into Alameda High’s newly built main building. With students packing in through the doors that lead inside, it’s easy to think they are not paying any heed to the school seal in the main hallway, simply walking by without a second thought — but how very wrong that assumption would be.

Instead, students of all ages part to the sides to avoid stepping on the school seal. Only when they have cleared the seal do they congregate together again.

Now, in the year 2014, students bustling and filing into the main building appear to pay no attention to the seal and walk on it as they hurry to class.

In the more than 30 years since the main building has existed, the tradition of not stepping on the school seal has faded. Many current students, and even longstanding AHS teachers, have  nearly no knowledge concerning the tradition.

English teacher Rick Teixeira, who has taught at Alameda High for seven years, “was not aware of it.” Veteran biology teacher Timothy Hardin echoes Teixeira; while this will be his nineteenth year at Alameda High, he admits, “I was not aware of it — I didn’t even know we had a seal.”

Primarily only those who attended Alameda High when the tradition of the seal was still fully practiced are aware of its vanishing. For example, athletic director Brad Thomas, who graduated from Alameda High in 1980, recalls how when students, himself included, “mistakenly stepped on it, they would get pushed or shoved to the side.”

Although the origins of the tradition of the seal are elusive, biology teacher Mike Carlson, who attended and graduated from Alameda High in the 1970s, suspects it to have begun in the historic Alameda High buildings in the 1920s, giving the tradition of the seal nearly as rich of a history as the school itself.

Carlson said, “even the people I know who went to school in the ‘60s” knew about the seal. He further adds that seal in the main building, which was built in the late 1970s, “is fairly recent.”

The tradition of the seal has a mysterious nature. Despite having endured for over half a century, it has almost completely vanished. According to Thomas, the tradition of the seal “used to be very serious, ” which raises the question — why is the tradition no more?

Although Teixeira was not initially aware of the tradition, he hypothesizes that “tradition, in general — and its significance — has been lost over the years” and that “people [back then] had more respect for institutions, like school and the government.”

“When we went to school, people were more traditional,” Thomas adds.

Generally, as the upperclassmen of each year graduated, the tradition slowly dissolved over the decades. The upperclassmen usually fulfilled the role of a mentor, or acted as a role model, for the underclassmen and as a result, had large influences in whether the tradition persisted or not because they taught the tradition to incoming students.

However, as time wore on, knowledge of the tradition and the amount of students that participated in the tradition gradually decreased.

“As people graduated, they weren’t as serious about it,” said Thomas.

In addition, Alameda has without a doubt become more ethnically, culturally and socially diverse over the past few decades. Such diversity has impacted the tradition’s survival because “all these different ethnics groups, their ideas of tradition coincide with ours,” says Hardin.

Despite its almost complete disappearance from the school, Carlson said, “I’d love to see it brought back. It makes me kind of proud.”

While the tradition has largely disappeared from Alameda High, with small pockets of students and teachers that know of it and an even more limited number that actually practice it, the tradition continues to hold great significance to those that do. Although awareness of the seal has declined, its symbolism hasn’t changed.

The tradition of the seal represents respect for the school; those that refrain from stepping on the seal honor the school by not only keeping it clean, but also uphold school spirit by avoiding trampling on the image of the school mascot.

“The seal represents to me pride in your school — you were very proud of AHS,” says Thomas.

Stepping on the seal also has a superstitious sentiment. “I didn’t one-hundred percent know about it [but] I was told it was bad luck to step on it before you graduate,” says junior Lily Shiber, who discovered the tradition last year.

While former AHS students regret the loss of the tradition, current students have a slightly different perspective. “Tradition is fun [and] it’s nice to have. We didn’t know exactly what it meant, but I can’t say we lost anything,” said junior Lily Shiber.

With increasing globalization, constant fluctuations in popular culture, and shifts in social values for students, it was almost inevitable the tradition would lose ground as the world transitioned into the modern era. Although it is virtually unknown to the majority of Alameda High’s student population, it still leaves a legacy that former students continue to hold dear to their hearts.

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The Oak Leaf, a product of the journalism class, is a vehicle of student expression and a public forum for the Alameda High School community.