Tag Archives: student traditions

Western Day: Today’s featured digital object

Student traditions at Pepperdine University have varied over the years, often reflecting the social trends of society at large. Given its relatively small size, Pepperdine has always cultivated a tight student community enthusiastic about social activities, trends, and traditions. The history of student life at Pepperdine is, therefore, also a study of U.S. popular culture and the milieu from which it arose.

Student dressed for Western Day in 1968

During its heyday on its southwestern Los Angeles campus, Pepperdine College enjoyed several annual all-school events organized by the student-run Social Committee, including the All-School Picnic, Homecoming, the Christmas Party, and the Luau. Between 1950 and 1969, one of the most anticipated all-school events was Western Day, for which students, faculty, and alumni would come to school dressed like frontiersmen, homesteaders, cowboys, and (yes) Indians. Classes would end early and the campus lawn would be transformed into the Wild West. In this photo, student Zak Johnson shows off his prize-winning Native American attire during the 1968 Western Day.

Activities centered on eating, entertainment, and sport, including barbeque, cowboy singing, and donkey races. Students that showed up in “eastern” dress (say, a jacket and tie) risked ending up in a makeshift “Wave City Jail.” Celebrity appearances included Chuck Connors from TV’s The Rifleman. The fun of Western Day was indeed inspired by the popular Westerns of cinema and television, and, like that genre, declined in the late 1960s, not surviving Pepperdine’s move to Malibu. Click here to see more photos from Western Day at Pepperdine College.

Archiving the Pepperdine Rock! A September slideshow

To capture a snapshot of student life during the fall semester, Pepperdine University Libraries photographed the Pepperdine Rock each day of the month during September (or at least as often as it was painted anew). As the semi-official mouthpiece of student organizations, the Rock changes appearance almost daily, so we thought we’d capture a month of student activities and creative expression for posterity. The photos will reside in the digital archive of our Special Collections, but you can enjoy the results of our experiment in this slideshow.

The Rock: Today’s featured digital object

Disco is Dead!

Do you recognize our beloved Pepperdine Rock? In the photograph above, which appears in the 1983 yearbook with the caption “Disco is DEAD, but the Rolling Stones live on,” the Rock is noticeably smaller and is paired with a tiny companion. In the intervening decades, the Rock has “grown” through countless coats of paint at the hands of Pepperdine University undergraduates to its current impressive size, and has emerged as one of the most persistent student traditions in Pepperdine’s history.

Situated in Adamson Plaza at a busy foot-traffic intersection, the Rock changes color and message several times a week during the academic year. Undercover of night, student groups paint the Rock anew, often surrounding it with elaborate decorations. In doing so, generations of Malibu campus students have carried on the Pepperdine College tradition of painting and decorating (and stealing) the fountain statue named Dolores that graced the heart of the old Los Angeles campus. The Rock, as Dolores’ descendent—although decidedly less anthropomorphic and a great deal harder to steal—occupies a similar place in the student experience in Malibu.

According to Pepperdine myth-history, the Rock traces its origins to one night in 1980 when members of the Sigma Epsilon fraternity hauled a 400-pound boulder to Adamson Plaza. The Rock, often called “Greek Rock,” quickly became the campus shorthand message board, providing a space for political messages, famous quotes, announcements, birthday greetings, event advertisements, and memorials (and, of course, astute commentaries on passing music fads). The tradition of building elaborate, float-like structures around the Rock began in the late 1980s. Around this time, the Rock was also (somehow) stolen and quickly returned.

You can follow the history of the Rock and other student traditions in our digitized Pepperdine Yearbook Collection, which is fully searchable and current up to 2006.