Staff paints over senior rock
By Savannah Butcher, Reporter
Since the senior rock was put on the VHS campus in 1988, layers of student history have piled over each other, every tag competing for space and a voice. Recently the administration has stepped in and covered up writing deemed inappropriate, which has students wondering- what are the rules of the rock?
A group of seniors at VHS pose before giving the rock a new coat of paint. Painting the rock has become a social event for many VHS students.
Office Manager Jackie Merrill, a graduate of the class of 1988, remembers when her father’s company, Kimco Realty, put the rock on the campus.
“Classes would compete when it first got placed in our outfield. Everyday someone would be painting, it was like a tag war.” Merrill said.
When the rock was placed on school property kids were encouraged to paint it, in an effort to minimize vandalism. At first it wasn’t only for seniors, and created competition between classes.
“When [my class painted the rock] it was more a rivalry between classes. Every day there was a new color or saying.” Merrill said.
With time the rock moved around campus, and survived being buried during the new building’s construction in 2013.
The rock after a group of VHS seniors gave it a new coat of paint. It has continued to be painted over multiple times since.
On Aug. 30 Merrill and her daughter repainted the rock with the phrase “Ok Zoomers”. Merill intentionally positioned the senior supply pickup lane next to the rock, hoping to revive the tradition.
But is there a limit to this freedom of expression?
“Anything that’s derogatory or offensive, we have to manage. But we’re not trying to take away anyone’s fun- it’s supposed to be fun.” Merrill said.
On Sept. 7 “Ok Zoomers” was painted over with an inappropriate phrase and clown, which was covered up the next morning. “VHS 4 Trump 2020” was then painted on the rock around Sept. 20, but was shortly covered up with black paint and senior doodles.
“I think it comes down to what you would be able to say in the classroom,” senior Max Zuber said. “Obviously if you say something mean towards another student in class the teacher may scold you, but they aren’t gonna send you to the principal. There’s a similar theme with the rock.”
Zuber has aspirations of majoring in political science, but despite his interest in the subject, he believes politics do not belong on the rock.
“If the rock is meant to represent the senior class it needs to represent all of the senior class, not just the people who agree with certain political movements.” he said. “It’s hard because we do want to show our support for Black Lives Matter (BLM), and I think there is a place for that. But not on something that’s meant to represent the entirety of the senior class.”
Zuber is concerned expressing political opinions on the rock will inevitably exclude some students.
“[BLM] is a human justice movement which has been turned into a political movement … the second you put anything on the rock [that is] politicized, you will be alienating some people which the rock is made to represent.” said Zuber.
Even though Merrill and the staff had good intentions, some seniors have taken it personally.
“I was disappointed when it was painted over the first time. Like why us? …It wasn’t a personal attack on our painting of the rock, it was an honest mistake, but it was hard to not take it personally,” Zuber said. “Our senior year is very different from what a senior year should be. It felt like the last straw. We’ve already gotten so much taken away from us and now [the staff] is taking away this, too?”
Zuber’s dad graduated in the class of 1988 along with Merrill, and he has looked forward to the rock painting tradition because of his father.
Ty Radford, ASB Vice President, has a different angle on the staff’s right to censor the rock.
“I think the rock is the place for senior expression, so if they feel they want to put that on there then it’s ok.” Radford said. “If there’s hate speech on the rock, [the staff] can step in , but it’s not their place to [censor us].”
Moving forward, Radford wants staff and student communication to improve.
“I hope the seniors will take away a stronger sense of community. I hope the staff realizes they should communicate with the students before they make decisions.” he said.
Radford and Zuber both hope the administration and seniors can grow from this exchange.
“In the end I hope the rock will end up being painted how we want, how it represents us, and that's what people will remember: the final result, not this struggle for power between the seniors and staff.” Zuber said.