High school math teacher Patricia Jacobsen and biology teacher Kellie Whited wear wigs and tutus while screaming an off-key, customized version of “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice, which playfully roasts the new Country Day graduates sitting on the lighted stage in front of hundreds of high schoolers and their loved ones. While this image may be surprising, many high school students have held memories like this close to their hearts as they eagerly await the day they receive their diplomas.
Country Day’s advertised small class sizes of under 30 allow for this unique tradition, coined “Roasts or Toasts,” which makes an important event like graduation much more personalized than simply receiving a diploma, as is practiced in public schools with over 500 graduates.
This graduation tradition started 51 years ago when Francie Tidey was Head of School. The tradition involved teachers putting on a skit either playfully “roasting” each of the seniors or “toasting” them with an appreciation speech. Students have the decision to opt for one or the other, and they can let the faculty know if they don’t want something specific to be mentioned in the skit.
The class of 2020 graduated a few months into the pandemic, making the tradition impossible to accomplish due to quarantine. Instead, seniors drove through the parking lot to receive gifts from their teachers which ranged from books to t-shirts. Afterward, the school released a pre-recorded video of individual short speeches.
Last year, with COVID-19 policies limiting the time each teacher could spend on stage, teachers performed one big skit at the beginning of the night and one big skit at the end of the night, not directed at any particular student. Each student got a speech and a gift from one teacher. At the end of the night, a pony and a dunk tank were brought out for the graduating seniors. English teacher Jason Hinojosa, who was in charge of planning the ceremony, described this new event as “streamlined.”
Hinojosa’s main support for this new type of graduation was making each tribute to every student fair.
“In the past, one student would get a song, costumes and a skit, and the next student would just get someone dressed normally making a speech,” he said.
“I think we have changed it from roasts to more like kidding with love, so it’s a little gentler now. Although I still gave some students a hard time last year, which I felt good about. It’s personal, but tighter.”
Although having skits for each individual graduate rather than speeches would result in a longer graduation, skits would make the program much more interesting so the event time wouldn’t feel as long. Even if some students wouldn’t get as roasted as others, they would still be able to enjoy the roasts of their fellow classmates. Seniors would even be more than willing to work together with the teachers by providing stories about their classmates to make each skit equitable to some extent.
In fact, the Octagon polled the senior class on Jan. 8, and all 29 seniors responded. The result: only two preferred the format of the 2021 graduation over the “Roasts or Toasts” tradition.
Senior Malek Owaidat, who has been at Country Day since first grade, said a personalized roast will be much more memorable.
“Roasts are only something we can have now in high school. We’re lucky to have small class sizes to where this is possible. Once we go to college, it would be much more professional, and any opportunities of this ever happening are gone.”
While the individual speech style of last year’s graduation is a viable option and would be greatly appreciated, the seniors would prefer the “Roasts or Toasts” skits. Seeing your favorite teachers put in the effort to dress up and tease or imitate you makes graduation much more personal, creating the perfect ending to our time at Country Day. In fact, a parent of a student from the class of 2004 still, after 18 years, distinctly remembers former Head of High School Sue Nellis’ roast for her son and considers it the highlight of his high school career.
Teachers will usually contact the parents ahead of time to inform them of roasts if they think it may be hurtful, Jacobsen said. However, Head of School Lee Thomsen said he’s been “uncomfortable” with this tradition since he first joined the school six years ago mainly because a family complained about their child being “devastated” by the roasts.
Students who don’t want to get roasted always have the option of being “toasted” with kind words. Many students over the years remember their roasts as a fond conclusion of their high school chapter. Why not focus on the immense joy it brings so many decades after? Why remember the rare few?
Head of High School Brooke Wells also emphasized the months of preparation that are required to pull off any sort of graduation. “Teachers really want for the seniors to laugh and have a good time at graduation, and we’re willing to commit months on end to ensure that,” he said.
Recognizing the constraints of both time and COVID-19, we want to emphasize that the structure of last year’s graduation would still be very well-received.
We’re just making a final case for tradition. We want to sit and laugh on stage with our friends as our teachers entertain us. We want to be roasted by the teachers who have been nothing but supportive for so long. Ever since we became high school students, and for some, for over a decade, teachers have likely collected teasing material that might be included in the famous roast. Let us have the “Roasts or Toasts” graduation we’ve been looking forward to for so long.
Originally published in the Feb. 1 edition of the Octagon.