Campus Compass: Painting Homecoming eagles


Sahana Srinivasan

The sophomore Class of 2017 eagle stands in front of the journalism room. “It allows a group of students who are often not as gregarious and outgoing … to have different ways of showing spirit, and that’s my favorite aspect of it,” Jeffrey Draper, freshman class dean and performing arts teacher at the upper school, said.

by Isha Moorjani, Asst. News Editor

Laughter and overlapping voices fill Manzanita and the quad as students chat with friends while eating lunch. Four majestic, bright white eagles stand on tarp in a straight line in front of the round tables with brightly colored paints and paintbrushes scattered around each one. A number of students gather around each eagle, exchanging ideas, lifting paintbrushes and laughing, and by the time the bell chimes signaling the end of lunch, each eagle displays a variety of unique colors and designs. 

The tradition of painting eagle statues to celebrate Homecoming is something that many students look forward to as a way to bond with other members of their class and contribute to a friendly spirit competition. Initially, students at Harker celebrated Homecoming with stationary floats and displays. 

However, Chris Daren, the activities director at the time, developed the idea of painting eagles, and the deans were involved as well. Soon, Harker bought four eagle statues. The reasoning for this also included efforts to support the environment and curb wastefulness. Thus the tradition began around 15 years ago and still lasts to this day. 

“It allows a group of students who are often not as gregarious and outgoing … to have different ways of showing spirit, and that’s my favorite aspect of it,” Jeffrey Draper, freshman class dean and performing arts teacher at the upper school, said. “It allows everyone to feel included and it’s a great opportunity for students who are not going to be dressing up in silly costumes and going crazy that week to be a part of Homecoming in their way and to add something beautiful to the campus for the year.”

In addition, the eagle statues that are currently in use for this tradition are the exact same statues that students painted when this tradition first started. A coat of white paint is painted over the eagles after the competition so that students can participate in this Homecoming celebration the following year. 

“The eagle is kind of like a redwood tree … If you were to look at a redwood tree’s stump, you can count the rings back and see different stories of that year of the tree’s life.” Eric Kallbrier, Director of Student Organizations and Assistant US Activities Coordinator, said. “If you were to cut down through the eagle, you would see … different layers of paint for every single year that students have painted it, … [and] you would see the history of [The] Harker Upper School.”

While the eagle statues may need to be replaced soon, the fact that they have lasted ever since the start has an impact on the students who participate in this tradition. 

“It’s sort of like a time capsule too because you get to look back at all the previous classes and who won this, and how their eagle looked too, so it’s a very memorable and unifying experience,” Austina Xu (10), a student who contributed to the Class of 2023 eagle last year, said. 

The tradition of painting eagles also constitutes a spirit competition between the classes at the Upper School, and each class receives points based on the ranking of their eagle. With students of each class combining ideas and collaborating, each eagle becomes truly unique by the end of the competition. 

“It’s really embodying our sense of community in a physical object. It’s something that in past years we’ve had displayed during Homecoming weeks or Homecoming games so all students across all campuses, all families, can come and view them,” Kallbrier said. “It’s just something we do physically to show how much our community, our class community and our school community, means to us.”

This year, while students cannot participate in the spirit competition and paint the eagles, HSLT is developing different ideas for alternatives.

“Right now we’re in the process of looking for input from the community on what we can do that’s going to be representative of the entire community,” Kallbrier said.

Although the quality of the eagle painting affects the results of the spirit competition, the real benefits lie within the process of the painting itself. 

“I never really care in the long run what the eagle looks like,” Draper said. “I love walking by the painting sessions and seeing the laughter and the smiles. That’s the most important aspect of it for me.”