About Us


Founded in 1884, Annie Wright has a host of traditions, many of which are still celebrated today. Below is a list and descriptions of some of our most treasured traditions. Your memories and stories help preserve and illuminate our traditions! Please contact the alumni office with any additions, amendments or other memories you would like to share.

List of 37 items.


    An annual paper airplane contest of accuracy and distance was started during the mid 1980s by Grade 2 teacher Jean Young. The event took place in various locales including the library hallway, the Great Hall and the Kemper Gym. Recently Grade 2 teachers (including Ms. Young) have transformed the experience from a contest to an opportunity for students to demonstrate and present what they have learned about flight and paper aircraft design as part of their IB Primary Years Programme "How the World Works" unit of inquiry exploring force and motion.

    The Alma Mater was the result of a contest, with a ten dollar prize from Bishop Keator to the member of the Alumnae Association or student body who wrote the best song. The winner was Nellie (Bridgman) Plummer, Class of 1895. She used her winnings to start the Raynor Chapel fund for the new building.

    Hail to thee, our Alma Mater,
    Seminary fair,
    May achievements crown thy labors
    Is our earnest prayer.

    Hearts turned toward our Alma Mater
    May our lives at length
    Prove thy students bear thy motto:
    “On From Strength to Strength.”

    Deep and true as those blue waters
    Thou art reared above,
    May the characters thou moldest
    Hold thee in their love.


    Pure as yonder snow-clad mountains
    Where our glances fall,
    May we in the years to follow
    Answer to thy call.


    * The word “student” was originally daughter.

    Annie’s Birthday Party was traditionally celebrated on the evening of the first day of school. The event included skits performed by the Masque Players and, in later years, skits and songs by each class, and involved activities that helped integrate the new students. The evening also included a birthday cake and singing of Happy Birthday to Annie Wright. Sometime during the event Annie’s ghost would appear and make predictions for the year. Elements of this celebration were incorporated into the CAMPFIRE when orientation activities were moved off campus.

    Annie Wright’s iconic arches are part of the tudor architecture of the current school, built in 1924, and are particularly striking in the Bamford Commons (formerly the cloisters). Designed by the architecture firm Sutton & Whitney, the building was honored with an award from the American Institute of Architects. Arches are now integrated into the school logo, surrounded by the school motto, “From  Strength to Strength,” and the original year it was founded, 1884.

    • The Wreath: given to the senior who best exemplifies steadfastness, gallantry, courtesy and vision
    • The Key: presented to the Junior who demonstrates outstanding sportsmanship, leadership and citizenship
    • Annie Wright’s Napkin Ring: replica given to a Junior for her constructive influence as a resident.
    • The Lambeth Cup: awarded for excellence in scholarship and in citizenship to a non-senior member of the Upper School
    • The Bishop’s Bowl: presented to Senior who has demonstrated excellence in the creative arts.
    • The Gatorship Plaque: given to Senior for outstanding qualities of sportsmanship
    • The Annie Wright Award: awarded to Junior or Senior student who has made an outstanding personal contribution to the school in one or more capacities.
    • The Ruth Jenkins Bowl: Given to Freshman or Sophomore who displays courage, an honest search for knowledge, and a willingness to give of oneself
    • The Art Award: Presented to a student for excellence in art
    • The Headmaster’s Award: Presented to a senior for outstanding talent and service to the school
    • The Helen McKay Science Award: Given to a student who shows excellence in all areas of science
    • The Jaroslava Vojtech Award: Presented to a student showing accomplishment in the study of foreign languages
    • The Harold F. Witman Award: Given to a student who has shown considerable growth in the understanding of mathematics and a capacity for conceptualization.
    • The Senior Scholarship Cup: Given in recognition of the highest achievement in scholarship and citizenship to a member of the senior class who has attended Annie Wright for two consecutive years
    • The Music Award: Given to a senior student who has demonstrated special dedication to improving her musical ability
    • The Joyce Kraus Memorial: Given annually to the student who demonstrates unique and emerging talents which contribute to the betterment of the community
    • The Ruth-Henry Wheeler Senior Award: Given to senior for outstanding loyalty, citizenship, scholarship and sportsmanship
    • Robert G. Hemingway Award
    • The IB Award
    • The IB Inquirer Award
    • The IB Knowledgeable Award
    • The IB Reflective Award
    • The IB Communicator Award
    • The Mills Award
    • The Anne Beckwith Black English- Drama Award
    • The Filmmaking Award
    • The Creativity, Action, Service Award (CAS)
    • The Catherine Mcpherson Scholarship Award

    • The Good Person Award
    • The Gator Award
    • The Scholarship Award
    • The Teachers’ Award
    • The Strength to Strength Award

    • The Bev Brown Excellence in Teaching Award
    • The L.T. Murray Family Chair for Excellence (awarded bi-annually in even-numbered years)

    In addition to physical education classes, Blue and Gold intramural teams competed throughout the year. The Blue Team’s mascot was Aloysius, a penguin, and Gold was Goldie, a bulldog. Sports included hockey, basketball, swimming, badminton, archery, tennis, volleyball, newcomb, bowling, ping pong, skiing. Intramural competitions culminated at Field Day, initiated in 1912 and later renamed May Day. The Seminary Athletic Council was established in 1940 to “promote good sportsmanship in all activities and keep a watchful eye on younger students.” Interscholastic competitions replaced intramural competitions in the late 1970s.

    This Senior-run orientation event incorporates a lot of the activities formerly at ANNIE’S BIRTHDAY PARTY, including skits, songs, cheers and an appearance by Annie’s ghost, who makes predictions for the year.

    A spring event hosted by the Board Games (s)Elective and Upper School for Boys Business, open for board game playing by both boys and girls.

    Annie Wright was founded under the auspices of the Episcopal Church, and our beautiful Raynor Chapel was built and paid for by the Annie Wright Alumni Association. It is used throughout the school year for Annie Wright services, gatherings, performances and ceremonies, and during the summers it is a popular venue for weddings. Students used to attend chapel twice each day. These days all-school chapel is held each Monday (for Grades 1–12) with division chapels on other days each week. These gatherings are now ecumenical and all-inclusive. Two events, however, still retain a religious aspect: Commencement, which involves blessings from an Episcopal clergyman, and LESSONS & CAROLS, our Christmas celebration.

    Lessons and Carols is a Christmas celebration that takes place one evening shortly before school breaks for the winter vacation. It is a warm, communal gathering that includes the singing of carols and the telling of the Christmas story through a series of readings. The event is followed by a reception in the Great Hall, where a beautifully decorated Christmas tree is the center piece.

    Dads’ Day, a popular event that took place the Saturday before May Day, included a baseball game, at which the girls were spectators, and an archery exhibition or a swimming meet, at which the fathers were spectators. In the evening, the fathers supplied instrumental and vocal music, and the Masque Players performed for all. Some years dinner and a father/daughter dance were also part of the festivities.

    Every year around Easter, Lower School students participate in an Egg Drop. This tradition began at Annie Wright in 1958, the year after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite. Students are challenged to create packages to protect raw eggs. The packages are then dropped from the tower in the Bamford Commons. All students guess in advance how many eggs they think will survive the long drop. For many years a Grade 3 project, this has moved to Grade 2.

    Annie Wright was founded in 1884 by the Bishop of Western Washington, Right Reverend John Paddock. Founder’s Day was traditionally celebrated on his birthday, January 19th, to honor him, and is celebrated with a special chapel service. Seniors also share the Founder’s Day cake, inside which four tokens are hidden. The cake is associated with some Christian churches and represents the gift from the Magi. Whoever finds a gift in the cake is considered blessed or lucky. The tokens and their meanings have varied somewhat over the years. Current tokens include a thimble (most successful career, formerly predicting spinsterhood), a cross (most religious or spiritual), a ring (first to get married) and a dime (wealthiest).

    House Cup and house color activities originated in 2003-04 school year as a way of unifying the school and finding connections between divisions. The competition divides the school into four houses corresponding with their tie color: green, blue, yellow and red. Lower and Middle School grades are sorted by the tie color they would assume in the Upper School. Throughout the school year, houses earn points by competing in various events, including community service, relay races, reading buddy pairings, scavenger hunts and trivia contests. Outgoing seniors welcome Kindergarten students into their House by presenting each of them with a tie or ribbon in their house color during the final walk-through rehearsal for May Day. The winning house is announced on May Day itself.
  • KEY

    The key is an award established in 1911 by Paula Frahm to “honor a girl’s interest in gymnasium and help to the gymnasium teacher.” According to a description by Susan (Scofield) Johanson ‘22 in the 1931 yearbook, “This does not mean the receiver must be a star in all fields of athletics, but she must have a fine spirit coupled with that of good sportsmanship, leadership and citizenship.” The award is now presented to a junior who demonstrates these three qualities.

    This annual Upper School competition was started in 2003 by Jake Guadnola. The performance includes acts by students and faculty, live on stage and broadcast on video, and the audience is given the opportunity to vote for their favorite student act. From general silliness to slick, tightly choreographed dance acts, this is a popular event in the calendar year.

    The signature orientation game in the Upper School for Boys

    Blue and Gold intramural teams each had a mascot: Aloysius the penguin for Blue, and Goldie the bulldog for Gold. After intramural teams gave way to interscholastic sports, a new mascot was born during the 1980s. A seemingly anomalous choice of mascot for the Pacific Northwest, the gator was inspired by then popular Izod Lacoste shirts and by Southern bred faculty member Beryl Horton. Formerly named “Abercrombie” and similar to the University of Florida mascot, it was redesigned for Annie Wright by Nike in 2013, and renamed “Chomp.”

    May Day, originally celebrated as Field Day in 1912, is Annie Wright’s most treasured tradition. From 1924, when the school moved to its current site, the May Queen, chosen for her beauty and grace, processed regally to her “throne,” in the cloisters (now the Bamford Commons), flanked by satin-clad pages and flower girls. After her coronation by a junior Maid of Honor, younger students treated the court to entertainment including various types of dancing and acrobatics and a traditional Maypole dance.

    Today we are proud to celebrate many of the rituals of this more than 100-year tradition. The May Court includes the May Queen, Maid of Honor, United States Flag Bearer and Annie Wright Schools Flag Bearer. The seniors still process to their position of honor before the school community, and the maid of honor still crowns the May Queen. Entertainment includes choir and orchestra performances as well as the Maypole dance, performed by Grade 5. Faculty and students vote for a May Queen who is caring, engaged and a strong part of the Upper School community.

    The Middle School Tea, established during the early 1990s, is a student-led event with a special snack and festivities just prior to the holiday break. Middle Schoolers don their dress uniforms, act as servers, and practice being hosts in a formal setting. Over the years the event has become less formal, with creative songs, competitions and other fun activities.

    In this interdisciplinary project, Grade 7 students craft a sea-worthy vessel capable of carrying students to compete in a race at a nearby lake near the end of the school year. Teams of four or five are chosen at random, and materials are mostly recycled and reclaimed, including milk cartons for flotation. Boats are painted and themed, and songs, skits and a barbeque are part of race day. This tradition, established in 2002, was spearheaded by Kyle Price and other Middle School teachers as a signature Grade 7 event.

    In 1881, president of Tacoma Land Company Charles Barstow Wright wrote to the Right Reverend John Adams Paddock, who was the first missionary bishop of the Washington Territory, and asked him how he could further support Tacoma. Paddock answered that the little town of some 1,000 people needed a church and a school which would "make possible Christian education for the rising generation of daughters of the pioneers." Wright agreed and outlined his vision for the school:

    “The school will provide education for the rising generation of daughters of the pioneers, children who will lay a firm foundation for the great state that is to be, a state which will require them to have kind, not callous hearts; joyous, not pampered spirits; broad, not petty minds; refined, not tawdry tastes; direct, not shifting speech – women who will meet wealth with simplicity, and poverty with dignity, and face life with quiet strength – developing from strength to strength; contributing to the righteous upbuilding of this great country.”

    The phrase “From Strength to Strength” is from Psalm 84:7 in the Bible, which reads “They go from strength to strength; every one of them appears before God in Zion.” The motto was later cut into the stone entrance of the 1924 building.

    Mountain Day was a day hiking trip to Mount Rainier that traditionally took place in the fall or winter. The outing, for the entire Upper School, is now a surprise day off regular classes in the spring, determined and planned by the Associated Student Body president in collusion with the Upper School Director. No longer a trip to the mountain, students usually go to local parks or shores.

    A napkin ring was required for each boarding student starting in 1884. These were traditionally kept in cubbyholes in the dining room and used during each meal. An award, Annie Wright’s Napkin Ring, is now given annually to a junior for her constructive influence as a resident.

    This springtime event was started in 1981. Originally seniors would hide school rings for juniors, then give them a clue during an elegant sit-down dinner to help them find it. Later the event evolved to a dinner for juniors and their parents, planned by the sophomore class in their honor. More recently it became a dessert, with the sophomores giving speeches honoring the juniors and gifting them a small piece of jewelry.

    An admissions event which offers prospective Upper School students the opportunity to see the campus, participate in activities and interviews, take assessment tests and compete for merit scholarships. The event began in 1988 with competitions for three main scholarships as its draw. The visit includes attendance at the annual LIP SYNC competition.

    After they find the SPADE, hidden by recent graduates who give a series of clues to the incoming senior class, seniors are entitled to submit a list of privileges for approval. Here are partial lists of these privileges from 1945 and 2015:

    • Seniors have sweaters in their class color, either cardigan or pullover, which they may wear on Mondays and Fridays.
    • The walkline privilege permits seniors to go downtown unchaperoned in groups of three on Saturday and for afternoon walks in the neighborhood.
    • If the “late” privilege has not been abused, they have only to sign their names in the office in order to stay up until ten-thirty on one night a week.
    • The front hall stairs are referred to as “senior stairs,” and may be used only by faculty and seniors.

    • Seniors may wear our senior sweatshirts on Thursdays and Spirit Fridays and college sweatshirts on Spirit Fridays after March. Green cardigans may be worn on any day of the week. Seniors may wear black athletic shoes or ankle-length, leather black boots.
    • Seniors may have off-campus lunch during the school week as long as we sign in and out.
    • At the teacher’s discretion, individual seniors may be excused from finals in certain classes if the teacher feels the student has a high enough grade.
    • Seniors will receive three homework passes to be used throughout the year.

    The wide, formal staircase in the main entrance hall was traditionally reserved for faculty and seniors, once they had found the spade and earned their SENIOR PRIVILEGES. The stairs were also a symbol of transference of senior duties/responsibilities. After the tree planting during graduation weekend, juniors made their way to the top of the stairs holding the spade and sang a song to the gathering body symbolizing their new position in the school. If a senior caught an underclass person on the stairs, she got to “punish” her. Usually it was done with a good sense of humor and was often in the form of silly consequences, for example cookie baking or singing the Alma Mater.

    1941 senior will

    Senior wills have included tangible objects as well as privileges, qualities, actions and circumstances, and are usually humorous, offering involving private jokes. Once announced during an assembly in study hall and recorded in yearbooks, they are now announced during a Upper School gathering during the week preceding commencement.

    The AWS shield, in a traditional coat of arms style, was used as a symbol on blazer patches and various programs and publications up until the 1990s. The two prominent symbols are a book and a sword. According to headmistress Adelaide Preston (1913-29): “The only significance I can give you as to the meaning of the symbols is that which would occur to anyone who has read the Bible, ‘the sword of the spirit, the shield of faith, and the word of God...’”

    Originating in 1891, the spade is Annie Wright’s oldest tradition. The subject of a frenzied search lasting weeks or months, it is traditionally used by the graduating class to plant a tree at the school. This description from nearly 85 years ago still holds true today:

    “One of the oldest and most cherished possessions of the Seminary is the spade. The spade itself is almost completely hidden under the numerous ribbons of green, white, purple, red and various other colors which are attached to the handle. It is used by each graduating class in the planting of its tree. On Class Day – at which time this ceremony takes place – it is presented to the incoming seniors but is immediately taken from them and hidden. This practice of hiding the spade originated with the class of 1902 when Millie Hubbard and Mary Kantz, two of its members, hid the spade for the class of 1903 to find. They not only hid the spade, but composed a set of rules which govern the hunting of it. Some of these rules are that the spade must be found previous to mid-nite of Hallowe’en and it must be hidden over a floor and under a roof.”

    -Elizabeth Emerson ‘31

    Once they have found the spade, the graduating class is entitled to SENIOR PRIVILEGES. Upon graduation, the seniors tie their own colored tie to the spade. If the class does not find the spade before Halloween, they do not receive their privileges and must tie a black tie around it. More recently, seniors who did not find the spade had to share privileges with the junior class.

    Following the awards event during Commencement weekend, all the doors to the school are locked except the front door and one other.  The junior class has to find the open door, and then Step Songs can begin. The juniors begin and sing one verse each about the other classes and the faculty. Songs are traditionally humorous and/or touching. In between each verse, they say "step" and move up a step.  The sophomores and freshmen then sing shorter songs, also in tribute to the seniors. They finish by singing the Alma Mater.

    Middle School admissions morning during the same weekend as SCHOLAR SEARCH. Prospective Middle School students and their families meet current students and faculty, participate in fun activities such as an iPad scavenger hunt and eat lunch in the dining room. This new tradition started in 2014.

    The first tradition of the Upper School for Boys in which older students present new students with monogrammed dress ties.

    Tie colors have been central to identity of Upper Schoolers for more than 75 years. Students in the same grades and those in multiples of four share tie colors, which stay with them forever. Ask a Annie or Gator from the Class of ‘38 to the present to identify someone’s grade or graduation year, and they will inevitably say, “Oh, they're a GREEN (...or blue, yellow or red) Tie.” Upper School girls currently wear their tie, a satin ribbon, loosely around their necks in a bow, as part of their everyday uniform. Upper School boys wear either a navy and tie color striped tie, or a while polo with arches in the tie color embroidered on the chest.

    Seniors use the SPADE to plant a tree or shrub as a gift to the school, a tradition since 1891. In the past the maintenance department partially planted the tree on graduation weekend. Seniors and juniors adjourned to the tree after the official award ceremony, and each senior shoveled a bit of dirt around it. The president of the senior class went last and handed the spade to the incoming president of the next year’s senior class, who shoveled on the last bit of dirt to finish the job.

    Five poplars on the hill near the current parking lot of the Kemper Center used to be considered the wishing trees. According to tradition, you close your eyes, spin three times, make a wish, and walk up the hill backwards. If you make it to the top, your wish comes true.


Annie Wright Schools
827 North Tacoma Avenue
Tacoma, WA 98403


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Founded in Tacoma, Washington, in 1884, Annie Wright Schools serve students from age three through high school. Annie Wright Lower and Middle Schools offer coed programs in Preschool through Grade 8, while separate Upper Schools for girls and boys offer day and boarding options in Grades 9 through 12. Annie Wright is proud to be an International Baccalaureate World School.