Student Traditions

Plug Ugly

When the university opened in 1891 students quickly set about creating their own uniquely Stanford traditions. One of the earliest was the Junior Plug Ugly, named after the "Plug Uglies," a gang operating along the Atlantic around the time of the Civil War. Started in 1898, the Plug Ugly was a satirical performance showcasing hand-painted top hats worn by juniors. The performance devolved over the years into a bloody interclass brawl, until it was finally banned in 1913.

Rough's Day

Other early traditions were equally brutish, including the Frosh-Soph Tie-Up and “Roughs Day”—dressing in old clothes to appear peculiar, grotesque, or comical. These early traditions reflected the student body at the time and a reverse class system in which a cult of “Roughs” or “Barbarians” challenged elitist notions of East Coast institutions and fraternities, engaging in roughhousing and hazing, shunning symbols of civilization.

Another tradition born of competition, this one on the gridiron as part of Big Game, is that of the “Axe.” In 1899, Stanford yell leader Billy Erb wielded a lumberman's axe to inspire the team. Stanford lost, and the Axe was nabbed by Cal students following the game. In 1930, Stanford’s “Immortal 21” staged an elaborate caper to recover the Axe. In 1933, the schools agree to make the Stanford Axe the Big Game trophy.

Over the next few decades other traditions developed, among them Full Moon on the Quad. While it is difficult to trace its exact origins, it appears to have started in the 1940s. According to the tradition, a Stanford coed would become a Stanford woman only when she had been kissed by a senior man in the middle of the Inner Quad at midnight on the night of a full moon.

Wacky Walk, a relatively recent commencement tradition, perhaps best reflects Stanford students’ creativity, passion and spirit.