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A Handprint Away From Graduation

By Amara Phillips

“Placing my handprint on the walls of Baldwin High School was the most memorable experience I had within the four years I attended” according to Sophia Decarlo, a 2017 Baldwin High School graduate. Decarlo is a 21-year-old who is now attending California University for her teaching degree and vividly remembers submerging her hand in cold purple paint and signing her name right below the handprint with a black sharpie.

Baldwin High School resides in the quiet suburbs of Pittsburgh and is known for its unique traditions such as handprint day. Each year Baldwin High School seniors leave their mark upon the walls of the school with a purple handprint and a signature.

COVID did not stop Baldwin High School Seniors from dunking their hand in purple paint as the tradition continued last year and is set to continue this year. The handprint date has been officially announced and is scheduled to take place on April 8th.

Each graduation class has a reserved stairwell space titled with their graduation year in big black bold lettering. The stairwell reserved is for each student to individually place their handprints on the wall. As of now, there is no set time limit for how long each handprint stays up as handprints from 2010 are currently up on the school walls along with every other graduating class.

The history behind the handprints started back in 2009 when the new building for Baldwin high school was finished. The principal at the time, Dr. John Wilkinson wanted to reward the seniors for pushing through the end of four years enduring constant construction.

Daniel Harrold is an English teacher at Baldwin High School who organizes senior handprint day and has been in charge of this tradition since 2015.

“I wasn’t here during the time of construction, but I heard the school was in complete shambles. Classes were being held in locker rooms and it was overall a mess. Handprint day was never intended to be an annual tradition but the next year came around and students were eager to once again sign their names beneath their permanent wall marking,” Harrold said.

Zack Sealy is an 18-year-old senior who can’t wait to place his handprint on the wall and even mentions this tradition is more exciting than the actual graduation ceremony.

“It feels good knowing our handprints will be up for years. It leaves a positive emotion in all of us and gives us a sense of accomplishment. The ceremony is only one day, but when we put our handprints on the wall it lasts for years and for the younger generations to look forward to doing the same thing,” Sealy said.

Sealy is currently attending school in person, but many students opted for remote learning. The school is currently operating at half capacity which means many students will not be given the chance to place their handprints on the wall during school hours, but Harrold has come up with a solution. The solution revolves around the asynchronous learning days which means classes are held fully online.

“Wednesdays are asynchronous days so we will be there all morning for students to come in and do that. And then, you know, for the ten kids who can’t come in that day we will have something figured out for when they can come in. Being that it is in April, we still have some time to get the word out to reassure students that they will have a spot on the wall if you can’t do it the first day,” Harold said.

Although every senior has a space for their handprint, the upcoming graduating class will have the last main stairwell. Baldwin is slowly running out of space for handprint day and will soon have to make some decisions.

Harrold jokingly states, “We could use the pool stairwells, but I don’t think anyone goes down there.”

Sealy believes in keeping the tradition alive due to its unique intent and its motivational purpose to inspire those to continue to the end. Decarlo also agrees that the tradition should remain running due to the special purpose the handprints hold.

“I think if Baldwin decides to get rid of the handprint tradition, it will be super sad for the juniors and seniors especially because they look forward to it,” Decarlo states.

Staff and organizers such as Harrold are currently conflicted with what happens next.

“Do we start to paint over or do we just say okay, we are done or do we say let’s do something else. That conversation is probably going to happen over the summer,” Harold said.

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