Here’s how high school senior pranks usually go:
Someone toilet-papers the campus. Someone pours detergent in the fountain. Someone turns desks upside down, sets clocks back, covers hallway floors with water-filled cups, parks cars on the lawn, fills the principal’s office with fake snow.
So when Emily Jones told Sherman Padgett to hold a bucket in the hallway last week, he wasn’t having it.
“No way,” the North High principal told her. “I’m not holding your bucket. … You’re going to put fish eyes in it or something.”
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He went back to his post in the hallway. Emily trotted off to class. When Padgett returned to his office, the old plastic paint pail was on his desk. He asked his secretary, Valerie Johnson, what was up.
“The seniors are playing a prank on you, and they need you to hold the bucket,” she said. “Just do it.”
Reluctantly, Padgett grabbed the pail by its handle and stepped into the hallway to monitor the next passing period. He braced himself for who-knows-what. Glitter bomb? Being sprayed with a fire hose? Anything could happen.
Within seconds, a senior walked by and dropped a piece of paper into the bucket. A few seconds later, another one did, too. Then another, and another. No words, just notes. By the end of the passing period, about 20 students had swiftly, silently dropped notes into the bucket.
Padgett went back to his office and read one of the notes.
“Thank you for the shirt you gave me,” it said. “When I didn’t have clothes on my back, you provided.”
“I love you, Mr. Padgett,” another note said. “High school has been wonderful with you as my principal.”
“The thing I like about you is that you’re always so happy and positive,” read another. “You have a lot of school spirit.”
Each card featured a Dr. Seuss verse on the front – “My goodness, how the time has flown / How did it get so late so soon?” – and a personal, hand-written note from members of the class of 2015 on the back: expressions of gratitude, shared memories, North High traditions, inside jokes.
Padgett read them and cried.
“It’s just the best thing in the whole wide world,” he said. “I couldn’t believe they did this. I couldn’t believe Emily thought a good ‘senior prank’ would be to fill my bucket with these amazing acts of kindness.”
Emily, 17, says she brainstormed the idea with her mom a few weeks ago.
“I wanted to do something nice for Mr. Padgett before any of the mean seniors did something horrible,” she said. “We talked about senior prank ideas that weren’t going to harm the school. … So we thought, ‘How about if we do something nice?’”
Emily got a school counselor on board and printed more than 450 copies of the note cards. Then she and some friends, Brittany Wilkerson and Alycia Cox, visited every senior English class at North High to explain the plan and distribute the cards. Classmates loved the idea, Emily said.
“Mr. Padgett is a great principal – the kind who dresses up like the Grinch for a pep assembly,” she said, laughing. “So it wasn’t too hard.”
On her note, Emily, a drama student, thanked Padgett for attending every theater performance.
“You support us all so much, and you participate more than any principal I’ve ever seen,” she wrote. “North High is amazing, and I would never go to another school. Keep doing what you do.”
She signed the note “Si se puede” – Spanish for “Yes, we can.”
Since last Wednesday, dozens more students have dropped notes into Padgett’s bucket. Monday morning, he got a few more. He plans to keep them all.
“I still can’t believe it,” Padgett said. “It’s the coolest thing ever.”