The History of Centennial’s Senior Traditions

Words: Caleb McClatchey

Photo: Zach Grable

On a late May night nearly 40 years ago, Centennial’s class of 1979 gathered in the auditorium. One by one they walked across the stage, received their diploma, and walked off into the next chapter of their lives. They left behind a school just like them– young and ambitious. They were both blank slates waiting to be filled with countless experiences and memories.

Now, 39 graduating classes and thousands of alumni later, Centennial is no longer the blank slate it used to be. Centennial has its own identity, its own culture, and its own traditions. For generations of seniors, these traditions have helped shape their time at Centennial. And while traditions like homecomings and Hebron games were enjoyed all four years, some of the most memorable and meaningful ones only came once. These senior-only traditions, some of which date all the way back to the Class of ‘79, have provided students with the chance to celebrate, reminisce, and enjoy their final year at Centennial.

The Senior Crab Feast, typically the first senior activity of every school year, took place for the first time on October 6, 1978– making it the first official senior activity in Centennial’s history. Although the menu has varied slightly, the event always kicks off senior year with a casual night of crabs and music with friends. Ever since it began, the overarching goal of the crab feast has remained the same: to help the senior class begin the year with a sense of unity.

According to Lisa Schoenbrodt, a member of the Class of 1979 Senior Board, the board originally decided to organize the crab feast because nearby schools, including those which Centennial’s newly-created student body came from, already hosted similar activities.

Following the crab feast, there is a lull in senior activities as winter sets in. By February, however, with every college application turned in and midterm completed, seniors begin to focus on their much anticipated graduation and the warm summer to follow. The Senior Luau, ironically held in chilly February, allows seniors to start getting in that summer mindset early with a Hawaiian themed night. Dressed in Hawaiian shirts and leis, seniors enjoy a laid-back, tropical atmosphere brought to life with music, dancing, and food.

Unlike the crab feast, the Luau didn’t begin with Centennial’s first senior class and hasn’t been held continuously since its beginning. In fact, it began with the Class of 1982, who, following a successful crab feast, wanted to host another “casual” event before graduation.

“Jimmy Buffett was popular, the Beach Boys would play at the Washington Monument each Fourth of July, so, we figured, why not squeeze one more ‘summer’ event into the year,” recalled Karen Donegan, president of the 1982 Senior Board.

Six years later, in 1988, the senior board decided to replace the Luau with a fancier class night. The Luau returned the next year before again disappearing in 1993.

While the Luau and Crab Feast serve as more relaxed events for seniors, prom is a different story. Although Centennial’s prom is open to both juniors and seniors, senior year prom, typically seen as a sort of “last ride” for students with graduation fast approaching, takes on added significance.

When Centennial opened as a new school for the 1977-78 school year, there was no senior class, so a junior-only prom was held. Centennial’s first junior-senior prom came a year later, on May 12, 1979, at the Kittamaquandi Room by Lake Kittamaquandi in Columbia. Since then, many more locations, including the Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore Grand, M&T Bank Stadium, and Martin’s West, have played host to Centennial’s prom.

Outside of the venue, the differences between the prom of today and the prom of the past are limited. Look through the the prom pages of Centennial’s forty-one yearbooks and you’ll start to find that the forty-one different stories, each with their own characters, their own settings, are really just the same story told by forty-one different classes of Centennial students. It’s a story of corsages, of boutonnieres, of dresses, of tuxedos, of limos, of hours of hectic preparation and weeks of nervous anticipation, all coming together, along with countless Centennial couples and friends, for one night full of grandeur and splendor.

And when prom ends, whether it be at 1:00am as it did in 1979, or 11:00pm  as it did in 2019, seniors still have one more night to look forward to spending together before their graduation. Class night, as the name suggests, gives the whole senior class one last chance to celebrate how far they’ve come and reminisce over the years they’ve spent together.

Centennial’s first class night, held just two days before the graduation of Centennial’s first class, took place at La Fontaine Bleue, an event venue in Glen Burnie. The event, slightly more formal than current class nights, featured dancing to live music, a dinner buffet, and reading of seniors’ wills.

Seniors in the class of 1979 gather for the first
ever crab feast. Photo contributed by: Eyrie

Up until the mid 2000s, class nights were mainly held at local hotels or other event venues, such as Martin’s West. In recent years, however, more classes have chosen to take the party from the dancefloor to the deck, with cruises becoming popular alternatives to traditional dances.

The theme that seems to emerge from every senior event, and in particular class night, is unity. As graduation draws near, students begin to realize how ingrained their classmates have been in their lives over the past four, seven, sometimes twelve years. And while yearbooks and pictures can ensure the memories they made and the friendships they forged are never forgotten, the time they spent together, the time which once seemed limitless, is now ever so finite.

Most of Centennial’s first class, composed entirely of students uprooted from their original high schools after their sophomore year, came from Mount Hebron, with a smaller portion coming from other feeder schools. Unsurprisingly, becoming a unified class wasn’t so easy.

“We had to really rally our class to come to some events, like dances,” remembered Schoenbrodt. “It took some time for our class to become a cohesive unit.”

Yet even for the Class of 1979, as the 1978-79 edition of Eyrie wrote, “What particularly characterized Class Night was the harmony which surfaced among such a diverse senior class.”

Outside of the longstanding senior traditions at Centennial, many other senior events and activities have come and gone since 1978. In the 1970s and 80s, some of Centennial’s senior classes took trips to Great Adventure amusement park in New Jersey. The Class of 1993 held a Senior Fiesta featuring a variety of festively dressed seniors. The Class of 1994 hosted a Toga Dance complete with prizes for the most creative, most colorful, and ugliest togas. These short-lived traditions, and the many others like them, are testaments to the remarkable staying power of the Crab Feast, Senior Luau, Prom, and Class Night.

What stands out about Centennial’s senior traditions is the extraordinary timelessness of them all. In the 42 years since Centennial opened, much has changed at the school and in the world in general. Yet now, in a new century, a new millennium, Centennial’s seniors flock to the crab feast, prom, and class night just as Centennial’s very first class did so many years ago. Maybe it’s because of our unchanging love of crabs. Maybe it’s because of our timeless desire for a night of luxury and limos. Or maybe, just maybe, there is something deeper at play. Maybe it’s because as the rest of our lives creep up on us, slowly at first, then faster and faster, we want, or rather, we need, chances to enjoy the present. We need those chances before they, like the present, slip away into the past.

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This article is featured in the 2019 Senior Issue.  To see the full issue, Click Here!

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