Ditch Day Was Indeed Tomorrow!

“Go to bed, frosh, Ditch Day is tomorrow!” is one of the most iconic catchphrases of Caltech. In fact, the moment the seniors sent the quirky message about dinner being absolutely delectable on Thursday, I heard it ringing in my ears. But nothing could compare to the excitement of Thursday’s announcements, Thursday night with the early curfew, and at last — Ditch Day.

It is worth savoring Ditch Day from its very beginning to its end. In Dabney, frosh were warned from noon: “The seniors think dinner will be tasty today.” However, with with the many fakes fresh in our memory, could this be a prank? And yet the day went on with a buzzing sense of anticipation. Dinner was indeed Tasty(™) — it coincided with the first day of the student grilling program by CDS — and before you know it, it’s announcement time.

In Dabney, the seniors were quick to assert control. From our dining hall’s audio system, dramatic music plays. Thunderstorms struck the ceiling of an all-shining afternoon. Seniors and the ghosts of previous time donned their best costumes and began their trek to a summit. Splits second after, another universe opened up: now we were parts of an Intergalactic Star Fleet, trying to solve the mystery of an ill-timed murder. Soon after, we jumped into the wormhole of space and came out anew: as a crop of rising-heroes trying to save the world. And of course, at the end of each and every journey: “GO TO BED, FROSH, ‘CAUSE DITCH DAY IS TOMORROW!” This year, the curfew is at 10:30PM. Fifteen minutes prior, for Dabney, the seniors summoned frosh to the lounge for a bedtime story before the night closed in and campus became senior-only. As a frosh (literally), I remember myself still grinding out the last of my set before the fun began (a rookie mistake), and no doubt generations of frosh will keep doing so despite the senior’s best advice. This year, though, I turned in early. For a night I felt like a kid the day before a field trip again: rumbling with excitement and chit-chats, the night growing heavy as if holding onto all the secrets and mischief the seniors were up too… And before you know it — “WAKE UP FROSH, IT’S DITCH DAY!” — it’s time for the pots and pans.  Each house has its own stacks with varying amount of seniors working on each stack. Some stacks involve adventure, some mystery, and some puzzle solving. Frosh line up to join stacks and soon, the fun begins.

From here the adventures diverge, be it Among Us themed, making your own lightsabers in the basement of Spaulding, waddling in the Gene Pool, or resolving the mysteries among the historical documents of the Caltech Archives. For a day you are an adventurer, a space voyager, a warrior. As I (not really) ran from the ninth floor of Caltech Hall to the Keck to disable explosives that will bring Caltech to its ground, I saw universes run parallel and crossed mine. Some were absorbed in their tasks. Some were chilling and floating on log-shaped floaties. Most were laughing, cackling with their friends. And just like that, the adventures go on.

But eventually the story must conclude. The heroes met their nemesis; the space voyagers solved the murder mystery; the adventurers arrived at the summit. I ended my hero journey drenched in water, slightly shivering in the afternoon chill and a heart simultaneously light and heavy: I had fun; The adventure is over; I’m glad to spend a good day out with my friend; The seniors are leaving soon; I love this place; I will miss this moment so much, ten, twenty, thirty years from now. 

And then the cannon fires. Seniors turn ghosts. Juniors fill in their shoes. Smores grow into juniors.

The end of ditch day comes with its own lamenting and reflection. Some part of you seems fundamentally changed, perhaps for the better. You are older now, wiser now. Despite the exhaustion from the days activity, late night after ditch day the houses are still filled with a buzzing excitement.

In that way, Ditch Day is a time-marker. It is a more apparent signal than anything else that the year has come to a close. All the fakes built up to this. All the spoilers and whispers and predictions built up to this. It is the high point of the story. I came out of it a year older and yet still feels so untethered, still so small under the shadow of the seniors. It’s almost like I was a baby bird under the upperclassmen’s wings, and one by one they flew away to new adventures. A year has passed and I stand taller, weather stronger winds that come with being a year older and before I know it – there are now baby birds under my wings.  But Ditch Day is about reunion and about the people, too. I didn’t realize how much I missed having the (old) ghosts around until I saw them split seconds before Thursday dinner. The quiet moments earlier in the day cements the fact: I spent time laughing, having fun, adventuring around with these people. The seniors will leave, and I will miss them. Yet nonetheless we are reassured that ghosts linger. They are invited to Dress Dinners, to alumni events. In the Dabney group chats, they are always around. Ditch Day is just the most prominent of these reunions: an ocean that all rivers eventually come back to; a shared unique history and experience of being a Caltech student, built from years of camaraderie and culminating in this final task of stacking. Indeed, the seniors put in monumental efforts to this event. Dabney seniors Kelsie Taylor and Moss Gardner put up a stack themed after Celeste (2018 video game). Activities were planned out with locations simulating the game’s key locations, with each hour of the day dedicated to a chapter of the game. Scribbled on their whiteboard: Mirror Temple (“Fear” in a box — infinite storeroom) activities with mirrors and lasers. While Kelsie took care of the theme and plot, Moss ironed out the details: “I experimented at the TechHub with 3D printing strawberries for the frosh to find throughout the day. After a couple weeks of testing, I went into mass production.”

The My Hero Academia stack has been a budding plan for years: “Norman [Chung] had been thinking about doing a MHA stack since frosh year. I joined him either near the end of junior year or this year.” Justin Toyota shared, “I once heard someone say that Ditch Day really comes together in the last couple of weeks and that was definitely true for us. We figured out the outline of the stack early in the year. But I only really started writing the puzzles in May, and I was working on them until the night before.” In Venerable, An Tran and his friends prepared a Star War-themed stack. “[The froshes] have to hack a terminal. They essentially had to solve a series of puzzles of which I designed.” Indeed, they were the lightsaber-making groups I saw in Spalding. “I designed lateral puzzles that required a change in perspective or novel way of thinking to solve. The final plan of the puzzle ended up being 10 independent puzzles that when solved, its solution is fed into the main puzzle which is the hacking of the terminal. People seemed to enjoy it, so I’m happy.”

There were hiccups along the way, visible only to the critical eyes of the seniors, that the froshes are oblivious to. “By the afternoon, everything felt like a disaster. But towards the end of the day, it felt like things weren’t going the way we expected but that it was ok.” Moss shared. For their sixth activity, froshes went through a yarn-and-command-hook laser maze and then through a mirror. Some decorations broke right before the activity. Justin and Norman also had their own hiccups: “There was a puzzle we had involving circuits, but it was only finalized the night before, so we didn’t playtest it. (we forgot one connection).” But as always, it all worked out in the end! For the seniors, Ditch Day marked the closing of a journey. “In some ways, my work on Ditch Day felt like my final gift to the frosh.” Kelsie shared, “My way of saying goodbye to a place that has seen some of my lowest lows but had some good as well that I often lost track of.” Justin feels a sense of calm with this finale, “For some reason, I felt stressed all week, but not today. Today I was filled with the calm of inevitability.” This insurmountable mountain cannot be crossed without the ghosts’ tremendous help. Amrita Rhoads (CO 2020) baked fresh strawberry pies for the frosh, and acted as other Celeste characters along with Jackie, Cayla, and Izzy. Kevin Marx (CO 2022) played the villain and also designed the circuit boards. Some works are more visible than others – Noah Ortiz (CO 2022) headed the laborious strawberry gluing, helped cleaning up and carried decors across campus. “We are very much indebted to Noah as well as the other alums and seniors who helped so much week-of and before,” Moss shared.

“It’s such a strange feeling to be done with Ditch Day. Something I’ve been stressing about for a year is finally over. The last major obstacle before graduation. It’s freeing.” Justin pondered, hours after the cannon fires, “The entire thing seemed insurmountable. But now I’m on the other side.” What next after this? “There are so many things I told myself I could do once this was behind me.” Justin shared, “I’ll definitely get to sleep.” The work is strenuous, and the first step for Moss is to take a break: “After everything, I felt accomplished but entirely exhausted. When everyone was socializing with pie and dinner, I fell asleep on the floor.” 

By the time I am writing this, the rest of campus has re-entered the normal grind, problem sets and deadlines quickly in chase. We have exited the Ditch Day Utopia back into the real world. The ending has sinked in. The fun is now stowed neatly under the frosh’s beds as they labor away on their desk. We came out of Ditch Day a year older (except for the frosh – y’all have to wait for the next cannon, sorry-not-sorry) another chapter sealed in. It’s worth sitting down again to savor this aftertaste of Ditch Day: to appreciate the seniors’ hard work, the froshes’ great fun, the ghosts’ long-awaited return, the memories happily-formed. Another year has passed, the summer will soon break through the clouds, and meanwhile…

Go to bed frosh, Ditch Day is Tomorrow!