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Swarthmore Traditions

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The Swarthmore experience is unlike that of any other college, which is perhaps best illustrated by its eclectic campus traditions. Marking your time here are these moments of whimsy and “Wow.”

students at first collection with candles

First Collection

An integral part of our Quaker heritage, First Collection is unlike any other tradition at Swarthmore. During Orientation Week, all first-year students gather in Scott Amphitheater for this ceremonial event that marks the official start of their time at the College.

‘The Graduate’ Screening

The weekend before fall classes begin, students flock to Parrish Beach for the annual showing of this 1967 movie classic. Veteran Swatties know to yell and clap at certain points throughout the film, like whenever Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is asked about his “future” or when Mr. McGuire praises “plastics” as the wave of the future.

Students compete in Crum Regatta

Crum Regatta

One of the most distinguishing traditions of the College—for its uniqueness and its ridiculousness—the Crum Regatta draws many students equipped with paddles and “boats” to the Crum Creek. The 500-meter race through shallow waters itself is unappealing; what makes the Regatta a worthwhile event is the variety of floating devices that students design to dominate the fierce waters of the 3-foot-deep creek.


Mary Lyon Halloween Party

Halloween is far from frightful at Swarthmore! Off-and-on since the 1990s, Mary Lyon dormitory has opened its doors to all students for a night of music, food, games, and other treats.

Students in costume at pterodactyl hunt

Pterodactyl Hunt

Coordinated each October by the Psi Phi Club, the Pterodactyl Hunt is a uniquely Swarthmorean tradition. Students come together to wear trash bags, fight monsters (or become one themselves), and engage in skillful silliness—all while having the time of their lives.

Students take part in Primal Scream in dining center

Primal Scream

During the last night of reading week at the end of the semester, Swatties gather in Sharples to vent. After a late-night snack of breakfast food, served by faculty and staff members, students drop what they are doing to join a rage-filled scream at the stroke of midnight.

Winter formal in sharples dining hall

Winter Formal

Swatties go glam for this annual event, usually held in late January. Sponsored by the Office of Student Engagement, the Winter Formal features hors d’oeuvres, live music and student DJs, and one of the biggest dance parties of the semester. Past themes have included a masquerade party, casino night, and a Harry Potter-esque Yule Ball.

Student dressed as carrot sits at table

Screw Your Roommate

During this much-anticipated Valentine’s Day tradition, friends secretly match each other up with dates, good and bad, who then have to find each other by wearing clues to their identity. Costumed pairs range from the traditional (Romeo & Juliet) to the creative (dog & fire hydrant) to the downright nerdy (supply & demand curves).

Red pieces of paper held by ninja


Every Valentine’s Day, hordes of ninjas emerge from the darkness of McCabe Library’s basement to become the stealthiest valentine-delivery system in the world. One of Swarthmore’s most beloved and popular traditions, the NinjaGram campaign is a massive student undertaking in which unsuspecting Swatties are ambushed with handmade valentines and ninja-themed comedy.

Ameet Soni at Bathtub Debate

Bathtub Debates

In this longstanding College tradition, presented by the Amos J. Peaslee Debate Society, three professors—each hailing from a different academic division (natural sciences, social sciences, or humanities)—give arguments as to why their division should survive in an apocalyptic scenario.

Spring LARP

Part Dungeons & Dragons, part improv, the Spring LARP (or live-action role playing) game turns the College into a mystical world where valiant figures face off against foes. Participants receive background sheets about their imaginative characters to fully immerse themselves in their roles.

McCabe Mile

A quotation is read, a book slams shut, and they’re off! So marks the beginning of the McCabe Mile, an annual race at McCabe Library. Started in the 1970s by a few Swatties in desperate need of a study break, the race features 18 laps (or 1 mile) around the basement stacks. The winner receives a roll of Scott toilet paper.

Students compete at Battle of the Bands

Battle of the Bands

Held on campus as part of Swarthmore’s Spring Arts Celebration, this annual showcase of Swarthmore’s musical talent features sounds from across the genre spectrum—from rock to hip-hop to more eclectic varieties. The top acts in the epic Battle land a spot on Worthstock’s music lineup—performing in one of spring’s largest and most anticipated events.

Large group of students at outdoor concert in Worth courtyard

Large Scale Event/Worthstock

Each spring, after classes end and before exams begin, the Large Scale Event (LSE) committee hosts Worthstock, a music show in Worth Hall’s grassy courtyard, where students can relax, watch live bands on multiple stages, and eat kielbasa. That same weekend, the committee hosts its signature event, LSE, bringing a nationally recognized musical act to campus.

Students pose at Last Collection with candles

Last Collection

A Swattie’s time on campus ends the way it began—with a ceremonial Collection in Scott Amphitheater. Featuring guest speakers from the faculty and the graduating class, as well as an emotional candle-lighting, this Commencement Weekend event ensures that the flames ignited during students’ four years at Swarthmore continue to burn long after they leave the College.

Student receiving rose on lapel at commencement

Rose at Commencement

The morning of Commencement Day, staff members from the Scott Arboretum assist graduating seniors with selecting blooms from the Dean Bond Rose Garden to wear on their gowns. The garden, established to memorialize Elizabeth Powell Bond, Swarthmore’s dean of women from 1890 to 1906, displays more than 200 different types of roses.

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