Taylor Shubert woke up at 8 a.m. Saturday, May 11, and went for breakfast with his dad at Reid’s Cafe in Murrayville. It was an early morning for a high school senior so close to graduation, who didn’t have to be at work that day, but Saturday was an important day for Shubert and the rest of the senior class at North Hall High school.
It was the day almost every student at North Hall looks forward to for years: senior banner day.
“It’s been a tradition for plenty of years,” Shubert said. “I’ve always wanted to do it and I finally got my chance to do it this year and I thought it was the best thing ever.”
For 20 years, students at the school have waited until the end of their senior year to hang a banner on a fence near the busy three-way stop that leads to the school. Banners are usually printed with a photo of the student, an inspirational quote or Bible verse and the logo of the college the student is headed to. They’re large — the standard size is 3 feet by 8 feet — and hung on the fence with string or zip ties.
“All I know is they’ve done it ever since I was in elementary school and I literally go past it every single year,” Shubert said. “It’s really neat how they show what colleges and what they’re going to do after high school and stuff.”
Shubert said he’s seen the banners change over the years on those trips to and from school. Back in 1999, when the tradition started, things were much different.
Melissa Pittman, who owns the property and the fence with her husband, Rudy, wanted a creative way to surprise her son and congratulate him for his hard work in school.
“That was before you had Facebook and cell phones and all this other stuff,” Melissa Pittman said. “So, I just kind of reached out to some moms.”
They went out to Walmart, bought a few twin-sized bed sheets and painted them in the driveway. Around 10:30 p.m. the night before her oldest son, Zach, started his last week of high school, she went out to the fence and hung the sheet.
“We decided we were going to surprise them,” Pittman said. “We hung the sheets up with clothespins on the barbed wire fence. Now they've sort of fancied the tradition up a little bit.”
Back in 1999 and for quite a few years after, banners were hand painted. Things were simple. But the banners evolved and are now professionally printed on vinyl with photos and all.
“My parents picked out what they wanted to say on it, but I picked out the pictures that are on it,” Shubert said. “It’s got a picture of me sitting on the back of my truck.”
As seniors like Shubert walked across the stage at Free Chapel for graduation Saturday, May 24, each of their banners congratulating them for all their accomplishments hang on the fence back near the high school. The tradition with grassroot beginnings hasn’t lost a bit of steam since its inception.
“It’s funny to look back on that now, but I would say it’s kind of a rite of passage at North Hall, in a weird way,” said Hudson Mitchell, who graduated from North Hall in 2014. “I had looked forward to it for months.”
Even though she laughs at the memory now, she remembers “feeling so cool” as she designed her banner and got it ordered. And even though she looked forward to it for months, she said her mother and the rest of her family were even more excited.
“I definitely think I was really excited about it, but I can remember my mom being overly excited about it,” Mitchell said. “Everybody in my family coordinated with it.”
That’s part of the reason Pittman is happy the tradition has continued. It’s a fun way for families to get together and create memories.
“It’s really turned into a big production,” Pittman said. “The banners can’t go up before noon on a certain day … We saw a bunch of cars up there once and it was like 6 or 7 in the morning and people were going up there staking out where they want to hang the banners.”
Everyone tries to get the coveted “corner spot.” It’s the corner of the fence that faces the intersection so more people see the banner as they're stopped at the stop signs.
“I remember the big deal was to get your banner on the corner of the fence,” Mitchell said.
Shubert was one of those people staked out this year despite the rainy weather. He and his father and his friend Zach Williams’ mother were there, sitting in lawn chairs with umbrellas, waiting for the clock to hit noon so they could hang their banners.
“My mom was so excited about it,” Williams said. “They wanted to surprise me with it, so my dad picked the picture and my mom sent everything off and designed it and everything.”
After he got off work, Williams drove by the fence and saw his banner. His, too, includes a photo of himself with his truck.
“I was happy with it,” Williams said. “It looked pretty sweet.”
The tradition has stayed alive because there haven’t been many problems. In the early years, some people would nail or screw their banners into the fence, which would inevitably split the board, forcing the Pittmans to replace it. The high school got involved, made rules for the tradition, and ever since, things have gone smoothly.
The Pittmans even get a few “thank you” letters from students each year.
“I’ll never forget, one day, I went up the driveway to my mailbox and I didn’t really realize that it had turned into such a big deal,” Pittman said. “I was at my mailbox and this kid pulled over and said, ‘Ma’am, is this your property?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘I’ve waited 12 years to hang my banner on that fence, so thank you.’ And then I realized it was a big deal.”
Pittman hopes the tradition continues for many more years. She has grandchildren at Mount Vernon Exploratory School that will one day get to hang a banner on the fence, too.
“Lord willing, I hope we’re here and I’ll get to see my grandchildren hang their banners on the fence.”
There have been 20 years of banners made and some are in the trash, many others are collecting dust. But those banners are still special to a lot of students. Even though those students are in their 20s and 30s now, they still hold onto the memories.
“It’s in my mom’s garage, literally rolled up in the garage,” Mitchell said. “When I moved out, I found it and was looking at it and I was like, ‘You cannot let go of this thing.’”