Every nation, city and college is laden with its own traditions, and UC Berkeley is no different, full of superstitions and lore known offhandedly by members of the campus community and barely by the rest of the world.
These traditions can be tangible and hold a long history, such as the freshman-sophomore brawls, which has origins tracing back to the university’s founding. Some other traditions, such as rolling down 4.0 Hill, are designed to change a student’s destiny — for better or for worse.
A few traditions were articulated in a 2014 Daily Clog story, but there are definitely others worth knowing about.
Stepping on the seal
One of the most well-known campus superstitions is that stepping on the campus seal, three of which are emblazoned on the ground near Memorial Glade, can lower a student’s GPA.
The seals were, according to the inscriptions on them, dedicated by the classes of 1945, 1946 and 1947 to all campus students, faculty and staff who served in World War II.
Stepping on one of these seals is said to curse a student, preventing them from receiving a 4.0 GPA, and one method for alleviating the curse is to immediately run to “4.0 ball” — the ball statue in front of the Campanile — and kiss it. Without the preface of stepping on the seal, kissing or rubbing the ball statue can provide a student good luck in their classes.
Yelling ‘Hugo’ (or ‘Pedro’)
Students who live in Unit 1 or Unit 2 may be the most familiar with this tradition. Those who were awake late at night may remember hearing the faint call of “HUGOOO!” from the outside, often from the voice of a drunken campus student.
The UC’s Centennial Record book has the tradition listed as “Pedro,” which was apparently what they yelled in the 1900s. The book also says this practice is “very old and its origin is unknown.”
The Daily Californian could not find any records of when and why the name switched from “Pedro” to “Hugo.”
There are a few stories that try to explain the yelling. One is the story of how the daughter of Don José Domingo Peralta, who once owned most of the land in the Berkeley area, was separated from a man with whom she was in love, and she wandered the land calling his name — “Pedro.” According to the book, her ghost still searches for him, and sympathetic students assist by yelling his name.
Another theory for the tradition is that the shouting began after a UC president’s dog ran away before finals; the president then promised any student who found the dog would get all A’s on their upcoming tests.
A final theory, though more modern, is that a freshman student had pledged a fraternity and then de-pledged in such a disrespectful way that the fraternity’s brothers had to go to the student’s dorm building and yell his name — “Hugo.”
One very well-known tradition, performed at every Cal football game, is the card stunts, which are set up by the campus Rally Committee.
The first instance of a card stunt, according to the Bancroft Library’s Bear Traditions collection, was the 1908 Big Game, where Cal fans wore white shirts and hats with two colors. The fans would reverse the hats and use the colors to form block letters.
At the 1914 Big Game, stiff cards in various colors were supplied to Cal fans, who held up them in a certain order to create shapes and words. Since then, card stunts have been a tradition at every home football game.
Members of the Rally Committee went to Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California, to arrange a large-scale card stunt during the halftime show — the same Super Bowl game where the Cal Band performed during the break.
Hanging of Danny Deever
On the last day of classes, the somber melody of “Danny Deever” drones out of the Campanile.
The tradition started in spring 1930 when the song was played on the Campanile’s carillon by chance, and students then requested an encore at the end of the following semester, according to the UC’s Centennial Record book.
“Danny Deever” is a poem by Rudyard Kipling; it describes the hanging of a British soldier named Danny Deever for shooting another soldier. It was converted to song by many people, but the most well-known version was done in 1987 by Walter Damrosch.
Since then, the song has been played before finals week every semester to fit the somber mood of students marching off to study.