INCOMING SENIORS at Vernon Hills High School (Vernon Hills, IL)  are anticipating their swan song of 12th grade, including solidifying college plans, Homecoming week and dance, Senior Prank, the Senior Lip Synch competition, and sporting kiddie backpacks.

Yes, a tradition at Vernon Hills and growing trend is young adults buying and using school backpacks traditionally enjoyed by grade-school aged children. Think: My Pretty Pony, Paw Patrol, Barbie, Spiderman, Disney princesses.

“Seniors only,” says Julia McGuire, senior considering University of Alabama for criminal justice.

And if an underclassman tried sporting a superhero backpack?

“They’d get the message quickly” through unspoken looks and body language, or even a kind word, according to Brandon “BMO” Harris, a senior considering several Big Ten schools for business.

“It’s a fun tradition, silly, and it’s been going on for as long as I can remember” states senior Kaylin Mann, looking at Illinois State. “Personally, I’m hoping for Alice in Wonderland” – seniors often find a character that matches their own physical appearance.

Jeremy Getlin, a 240-pound defensive lineman who is considering University of Kansas, offers: “Me, I’m looking for a Snoopy backpack. He’s a classic.” Getlin recalls a past senior who was another 100 pounds heftier by comparison, trying to squeeze into a Thomas the Train backpack.

Embracing being silly

With college approaching, these Cougar seniors know there will be major changes coming up in their lives. But now, instead of hoping to look and act older, they’re embracing being silly, planning to enjoy their final high school year.

And while they have their wish lists – Sleeping Beauty, Minnie Mouse, Elsa from Frozen, Power Rangers – these seniors typically wait until very last second to do their shopping. “Day before school starts” admits senior Agne Jurgelaityte, considering Western Michigan. and other broad format retailers offer wide selections.

Not all will be so easy to find. “I’m searching for an Olivia the Pig backpack” states Olivia Sheldon, an ambitious senior considering Stanford and Cal PolyTech for Industrial Art and Design.

What’s inside

These seniors admitted to stuffing their backpacks with typical high school items, with organizational skills widely ranging from color-coded folders for each class (“I’m a neat freak”) to a bunch of loose papers and a handful of pencils at the bottom (“I fish for the right stuff. It’s all there.”). ChapStick. Chromebooks. Car keys. Cell phones. Their lunches – when they remember them.

“I cleaned out my junior backpack just a few weeks ago” confesses one of the seniors, “and I found my lunch from the last day of classes. A banana got crushed and it was rotten. Believe me, I need a new one” she admits.

Lexie Smolic, senior considering Miami of Ohio, once found a dog treat in her backpack. “Not for me, but my dog. Honest.”

Spill reminders remain in past backpacks: ranch dressing, yogurt, burst ketchup packets, melted gum, a whole can of Coke.

Along with stress-busters – these are high performing seniors, like Roman Magazu, applying to South Carolina for sports management – fidget spinners, Snapple bottlecaps, even Play-Doh. “They give it out as a stress reliever” says Magazu. “I found chunks of Play-Doh at the bottom of mine” recalls Sheldon.

So if you spy a 6’ plus young man sporting an emoji-based backpack, or an SUV-driving young lady donning a Deadpool-themed one, they’re likely just high school seniors enjoying their final year and expressing themselves through their kiddie backpacks.





LifeYourWay Editor


  • So cool to see that this tradition has lived on! I remember sporting a kiddie backpack my senior year at VHHS almost 5 years ago!

  • I had no idea this was a thing, mainly because my oldest son is just starting pre-k. He rocks a Spiderman backpack so maybe once the school year is over I should consider stashing it away for the next 13 years lol.

    • Yes Jessica, you should! I wish I had saved my daughter Julia’s backpack from Kindergarten. She is one of the seniors pictured and this is all so bitter sweet! Cherish your sweet little Spider-Man!! My oldest, who graduated in 2017 sported a full plush Chewbacca backpack his senior year! This tradition is a good one:)

      • Thanks Jessica and Heather – so glad your daughter helped tell the story of this great tradition. Maybe we can do another story in 13 years and see how Spiderman made a comeback with Jessica’s son!

  • This is so fun! I wish we’d had this tradition when I was a senior – I would have picked the brightest Lisa Frank backpack I could find!

  • I love this tradition! Such a great way for these students to embrace being kids before they have to move onto college.