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Penn State’s Tradition Of Partying

Whether the university loves it or not, Penn State has a reputation of being a party school. Through the years, a number of events have established a foothold with students. Some of these traditions have slowly faded into mystic legend, while others have stuck around to this day. We’ve compiled a list of some of Penn State’s most notable party traditions that have engraved themselves into the school’s history.

Arts Fest

The Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts (a.k.a Arts Fest) has been a staple of the State College summer for over 50 years now. Since 1967, students have flocked back to central Pennsylvania, after two and a half months away, for the chance to be in Happy Valley again. While many attend the festival under the ruse of going to appreciate the art, most end up partying the weekend away. In fact, it’s often a miracle if one gets a chance to see any of the art at all by the time the weekend is through. Students will take any and every excuse to be reunited with their beloved daylonging spots and bars once more. However, even aside from the partying, there are plenty of musical acts and street vendors for festival goers to peruse.

Regatta at Bald Eagle State Park

In the 1970s and 80s, the Beta Sigma Beta fraternity would hold an annual regatta event at Bald Eagle State Park at the end of the spring semester. The event was held as a way to raise money for the American Cancer Association and in memory of the life of Beta Sig brother, Sy Barash. In typical Penn State fashion, the fraternity held a daylong where individuals could take part in team competitions, enjoy live entertainment, or relax by the beach. While alcohol was technically banned at the event, students were often able to sneak liquor in through other means — like in the form of Jell-O shots. Essentially, it was an excuse to raise money for a great cause, but to also get turnt along the way.

Gentle Thursday

Before Movin’ On, there was a very different kind of spring festival that occupied Penn State students time –Gentle Thursday. Students would gather on the lawn of Old Main for a day filled with kazoos, kites, balloons, and music. While the idea for a day each year where students could come together to take part in a “protest music festival,” didn’t originate at Penn State, the concept quickly caught on.

For 10 years, from 1971 to 1981, students all over campus came together to take part in this reminiscently hippie-like movement. However, as the years went by, the movement quickly turned into less of a protest and more of a wild party. Students would show up with beers or bottle of liquor hidden away. In its final years, Gentle Thursday served as an opportunity to loosen up and party the day away.

Phi Psi 500

Perhaps one of Penn State’s longest party traditions, aside from Arts Fest, was the Phi Psi 500. While the event is no more today, it did last for a quarter of a century. Starting in 1969 and running until 1992, the Phi Psi 500 combined alcohol, charity, and racing all into one event. For a group of fraternity brothers looking to raise money for philanthropy, creating a bar crawl to benefit charity seemed like the perfect idea. Those interested in partaking in the event would pay a minimal fee to enter the contest and race around downtown State College from one bar to the next. What started off as a fun attempt to draw attention to the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, quickly developed into something much bigger. In its heyday, the Phi Psi 500 saw participation from over 3,000 students–a figure that caused brothers to cap the number of participants in the future to around 2,000. Students would come from all over campus to watch the festivities, for not only was the drunken sprawl a spectacle to see, but participants would often deck themselves out in outrageous costumes. It was a beauty pageant, bar crawl, and daylong frenzy all rolled into one.

Briarwood Bash

Another major highlight of the academic year throughout the late 70s and early 80s was the Briarwood Bash. While the event only lasted for a little over a decade, its impacts on the students who attended Penn State back in the day were great. Tenants of the Briarwood Apartment Complex on 681-B Waupelani Drive threw what can only be described as a massive daylong for friends and guests alike. Throughout the day, guests would spill into the courtyard and streets surrounding the complex for booze, music, and fun. Bands would come to entertain the party-goers and the springtime weather made it a day, if not a weekend, to enjoy.

After the main festivities started winding down outside, tenants would invite friends back to their apartments to continue drinking at after parties. But, after 11 years of drunken stupor surrounding the event, State College police cracked down on the bash. By 1985, the event was no more.

State Patty’s Day

State Patty’s Day, while one of Penn State’s most coveted traditions, is still a relatively new one. The event started about a decade ago after students realized that Saint Patties Day overlapped with the university’s scheduled spring break. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to drink, students came together through Facebook in a collective effort to move the holiday to an earlier date. Somehow, their efforts paid off, and thousands of students flocked bars and restaurants downtown to celebrate. Today, the event is held the weekend after THON and brings in college kids in from all over the country. In fact, it’s considered, nationally, to be one of the top ten best party events for college students.


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About the Author

Emma Dieter

Emma is a senior from the ever-popular "right-outside" Philly area studying labor employment relations and PR. She's also the Student Life editor for Onward State. She has been a Penn Stater from cradle and will continue to bleed blue and white, 'til grave. She loves trashy romance novels, watching Netflix, and crying over cute videos of dogs. If you ever want to talk more with her about how great she is, or simply have other inquiries, feel free to email her at [email protected]

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