We’ve Got Spirit! How ‘Bout You?

What draws Paly students into Spirit Week each year?


The outlandish costumes. The cheering (and booing) in the stands. Floats and class dances. The homecoming football game and homecoming dance.

Occurring annually in fall, Spirit Week has been an integral part of Paly culture since the mid-1900s. The six-day series of activities, cheering and fun is a chance to show off Paly spirit and compete with other grades. 

“I always smile just thinking about it again,” 2014 Paly alumna Mehr Sikri said. “You don’t get that in college.”

More Than a Float

Before Monday, students from each grade work together to design and construct a float based on their class theme. Lisa Hallenbeck, Paly alumna (‘87) and mother of a current Paly student, recalls her float building experience.

“There you are at two in the morning making little flowers and you’re standing next to someone that you have never met … but you’re united for the rest of your life just based on that,” Hallenbeck said. “And I think there is definitely a spirit component to it where everybody gets really into it.” 

Trouble in Paradise

For years, Paly community members have called out the juniors’ “Thousand Islands” dress up theme for appropriating Hawaiian culture. Some have suggested dressing in beach or tourist attire instead, and in a 2018 Campanile article, former ASB director Matthew Hall proposed his own solution.

“If all class officers were to make a collage of appropriate costumes for all five days and we posted that on Schoology, that would be a good way to get it out there,” Hall said.

Despite community efforts, many students were still observed donning leis and hula skirts in 2021. This year, ASB posted a lookbook on social media and is pushing “Thousand Islands” toward beach attire.

Fun and Games

“I definitely fit the themes, like I’d wear a cowboy hat on ranch day for sophomores and I was definitely into the color thing,” Paly history teacher and alumnus (‘08), Daniel Shelton said. “But I didn’t really go all out on the costumes. I was definitely more into the games.”

While the rest of their class cheers them on, students play games like tug of war and hungry hungry hippos to earn points for their grade.

“I remember the emotion more than the actual games, to be honest,” Sikri said. “I just know that they were so much fun to watch.”

Tradition and Change

Hallenbeck and Shelton remember a couple of Spirit Week traditions that have since died out.

“Every year, the seniors would steal the Channing house sign from the retirement community that’s downtown,” Hallenbeck said. “It was ‘totally fine’ that you stole it every year, because every year you would bring it back.” 

Some of Shelton’s favorite memories were Paly’s morning rallies. 

“We would show up early for the morning rallies and there would be donuts and hot chocolate,” Shelton said. “I used to show up to school at like, 7:15 just to get a parking spot.”

Rite of Passage

Wednesday’s dress up theme is color day. Each grade wears their assigned color of orange, red, yellow or green/camo.

“I love seeing all the different classes, especially on color day, like seeing who’s part of what grade and seeing them all together unified with their colors,” Ashley Meyer, junior and ASB vice president, said. 

“Orange is kind of a rite of passage for the freshmen,” Arne Lim said, laughing. Lim, a retired Paly math teacher, graduated from Paly in 1980. Though not much of a participant at Spirit Week in his high school days, Lim was instrumental in helping ASB plan and coordinate the week at the end of his career.

Camo Conflict

“[Wearing camouflage] was part of a theme for the week and then the juniors who came behind said, ‘Oh, this is kind of cool. Let’s just do camo on certain days,’” Lim said. “And then it continued.”

But Lim believes that wearing camouflage print could at best, promote the military and at worst, “make a mockery” of it.

“I would, and this is going to be heretical for some people, love to get rid of camo,” Lim said. 

But many students look forward to wearing camo as seniors–it’s a long-lasting tradition that many don’t want to miss out on. For better or for worse, camo is here to stay this year.

Photos from Paly Journalism Archive

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