Dulaney High seniors carry on tradition of painting school's boulder - and themselves

Dulaney High School's Class of 2015 is all grown up and using finger paints.

But the finger paints students used last Wednesday are part of a time-honored tradition. Every year, the senior class repaints a gigantic rock behind the school in their class colors.

The tradition is a little bit like kindergarten. Students waited patiently in line for their chance to paint their name or leave a handprint or drawing on the boulder. And it ended with paint in the hair, handprints on shirts, paint everywhere.

The event marks the beginning of their last year at Dulaney High. Billed as a barbecue, parents bring hamburgers, hot dogs and brownies — and their cameras. The 462 seniors gathered after school near the rock wearing shirts emblazoned with "SENIORS" on the front, "15" on the back.

"This tradition has been going on for decades," said Dulaney's principal Lyn Whitlock. Her own two children took part in the 1990s. Teacher Rene Curry said her mother took part in the 1960s.

Astronaut Reid Wiseman, now aboard the International Space Station, sent a message to the Class of 2015 recalling his own rock painting with the Class of 1993.

"Not everybody has an astronaut say, 'Go seniors, have fun painting the rock,'" said Whitlock, noting Wiseman was wearing a Dulaney T-shirt in the video.

Kathy Mitzel, a member of the Class of 1982, was on hand to see her daughter, Madison, paint the rock. But she remembered the day her class painted gold letters on a maroon rock. She wrote "Love on the Rocks," the name of 1980s Neil Diamond song. She signed it, too. And she, too, ended up with paint everywhere.

"I had it in my hair for a month," Mitzel said.

Current seniors paint the rock in their class colors. For the Class of 2015, members of the class council covered last year's paint job with a base coat of light blue. Then the silvery graffiti was added Wednesday. In earlier years — the history is a little hazy — students repainted the rock every year in the school colors, red and black.

Kira Stiers had decided before she was handed her little cup of paint. "Just my name, I think. I've got to leave the legacy."

Most write their names —Yusuf, Grace, Laura, Jake, Caroline. A few left handprints or hearts. "I've never seen them write anything they shouldn't," Whitlock added.

The staying power of paint in the hair was a definite concern for some. A post on the class's Facebook page offers suggestions for getting it out.

Tyla Lang decided she'd rather keep her hair clean.

"I decided to opt out of the paint," Lang said. But she still wanted to participate, wearing her still-clean class shirt, signing the class banner, smiling when they took a class "selfie." 

Anna Wright was covered with paint but she'd protected her hair by wrapping a grocery bag around her head.

Si Tal didn't appear concerned with a thin coating of gray paint everywhere. She found meaning in the afternoon's events.

"It brings us all together as one," Tal said. 

Diana Torre considers it a fitting kick-off for the year: "The fact we're seniors — I still can't get it through my head."

"We celebrate the year of us leaving," said Sean Tapolyai, whose class ring had a layer of gray.

Painting that rock is an event some students said they had looked forward to since they arrived at Dulaney High. 

"When I was younger I looked forward to it a lot," recalled Aleem Mirza, noting that the event had creeped up on him.

"I think it brought us together as a class," said Jamie Freed, adding, "It is very silly when you think about it." Still, she said, everybody does look forward to it.

Kalie Paranzino certainly did. She watched the senior tradition from the adjacent field hockey team for the past three years. Now the publicity rep for the class council, she was taking her turn.

"We get to be part of the tradition," Paranzino said. "It really kicks off senior year."

Laura Hillard, the historian for the class council, was covered in paint but an improvised plastic cover for her camera kept it almost completely clean. She was shooting away, collecting photographs of this important day for the Class of 2015. 

"I'll remember this day forever," she said.

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