Less boring than math class?
September 23, 2010 12:50 PM   Subscribe

What kind of school assemblies did you have growing up? Do any stick in your head as particularly interesting or important?

Teachers and school administrators: what do you think of school assemblies? How do you go about finding and choosing assembly programs?

Bonus question: Did you ever see an assembly go disastrously wrong?
posted by Hoenikker to Education (75 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Assemblies are a stupid waste of academic time. Maybe one at the start of the year to make sure everyone understands rules and procedures. That's it.
posted by theichibun at 12:52 PM on September 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

I'd like to point you to this gem of a video of a younger John Green (popular YA author and youtuber) retelling the story of his high school senior prank, which involved his school's yearly assembly/speaker day. It's a bit long, but well worth it for an "assembly goes disastrously wrong" tale.
posted by litnerd at 12:54 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

We had assemblies for..
  • End of the semester awards and prizes for things like fund raisers and such.
  • People brought animals for us to see/touch/interact with. I once held a boa constricter on my shoulders.
  • Magic and Sports shows (not as memorable as the animals)
  • Motivational speakers
  • School news

posted by royalsong at 12:54 PM on September 23, 2010

The only one I remember in particular was in, I believe, 10th grade (the time that most students were turning 16, which in my state meant drivers' licenses). They packed us all into the gym and made us watch some of the most graphic, horrifying videos of drunk driver crashes that we could imagine. Most students were crying.

It was really memorable, but my idiot classmates still drove drunk throughout high school.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 1:00 PM on September 23, 2010

I'm a teacher but we don't have assemblies in high school.
Anyway, the assemblies that I most remember as being fun, from my time in school were some sort of more informal ones that happened near the winter break. We were taken to the school gym, had some announcements, the school anthem and such, and then the whole school sat down and they showed some Christmas Songs sing-along videos. Sounds cheesy but it was a lot of fun and a great way to sort of send us off for the holidays.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 1:00 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

The most memorable for me were when we got to see and interact with whatever was going on. I remember once the local Police brought their canine units in and we got to see them do all kinds of tricks and drills. It was great. After the assembly they went around to the classrooms and let us meet and pet some of the dogs.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:01 PM on September 23, 2010

In my (very small) elementary school we had a weekly assembly called "Sing!" Which was exactly what it says on the tin. Once we got to 5th to 6th grade we thought we were too cool for it, but looking back on it, it's pretty great.
posted by haveanicesummer at 1:01 PM on September 23, 2010

At the school I went to until 6th grade, there was an annual assembly on the first day of of the year for the whole school (pre-K through 12). It was held outside in the school's amphitheater; the littlest kids would sit in the front and the high school kids would be standing in the back. I don't remember what else went on, but each year the headmaster would read The Sneetches. I always loved it. It set a nice tone for the year and created a certain sense of tradition (though I have no idea if it's still done). That's still my favorite Dr. Seuss story.

I seem to remember the headmaster also reading "What Was I Scared Of?" from the same collection - my memory is fuzzy as to whether that would happen at the same assembly, but I kind of think it did.
posted by nickmark at 1:02 PM on September 23, 2010

We had an assembly every single day for roll call, chapel (a reading, a hymn, and a prayer) and announcements (few). We all lined up in an area in alphabetical order and were checked to see everyone was present or accounted for, the lines went into the school church, we sat down (and stood and knelt etc), then all filed out again then went to class. It was a big waste of time.

A weekly non-religious assembly with only important announcements would have been much better, and teachers could have taken roll call in the first class.
posted by meepmeow at 1:05 PM on September 23, 2010

Our music teacher Mr. Surra was in charge of the morning announcements, at which time he adopted the alter ego of a deejay named Benny Boogie. He would give all the announcements radio style, and then play some sort of Demento-esque novelty song of his own invention (nearly all his songs were about how you shouldn't do drugs). He had an opening jingle for his morning "show" and everything.

At assemblies he would make appearances in an actual Benny Boogie costume. I think some kids probably thought he was real. He would jam out on stage and actually perform his songs; later he started selling them on cassette for $5. Benny Boogie was basically the only reason anybody ever wanted to go to assemblies. Wow, I really wish I still had that cassette.

Also we had "Snake Alert" assemblies every year that taught us how to be safe around poisonous rattlesnakes and how to administer first aid if bitten.

This was in rural Arizona in the mid '80s, FWIW.
posted by hermitosis at 1:08 PM on September 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

We had a weekly assembly at my (small, private, arts-magnet) middle/high school. We had:

- Outside speakers and performers: Everything from jazz groups to someone talking about what it's like to have a particular disability
- ESL/Spanish/French skits
- Bits of upcoming school plays to encourage us to come
- Bits from other performing arts classes - dance, mime, orchestra, etc.
- The yearly fashion show
- Science demos: for instance, every year the eight grade built balsa wood bridges and had a big test-off with bricks in front of the whole school
- Various small-group activities/discussions led by teachers or someone from outside, on things like the environment, diversity, self esteem, etc.

(A few times a year we'd also have a whole day of things like this centered around a particular theme - Science Fest and MLK Day were two of the big ones)
posted by heyforfour at 1:09 PM on September 23, 2010

pep rallies for the football team. period.

there may have been one or two about how drugs will eat your face off, but it was and is allllll football. Mostly I remember feeling how forced they were - mandatory attention, detention for not cheering and stuff like that. ugh. Note: I have very little school/team spirit.

Go wrong? There was the time the varsity cheerleaders misspelled the name of the school during a cheer at a big event (homecoming?). They just sorta stopped and looked confused while the crowd laughed. The second attempt went no where.
posted by anti social order at 1:11 PM on September 23, 2010

Mostly just motivational speakers similar events, none of which I remember. Although two incidents stand out in my head.

When I was in elementary school, the long-time, much-loved principal was retiring. Somehow teachers managed to herd the entire school (hundreds of students from the ages of 5-13) into our massive gymnasium without the principal knowing and had us all maintain absolute silence. Someone called the principal down to the gym under the guise of an emergency and when she rushed into the gym, she discovered that it was a surprise retirement party and couldn't help but weep her eyes out.

Our school also held all-class assemblies for homecoming activities. One contest held was a contest in which participants tried to see who could eat a series of peanut butter cracker sandwiches the fastest. Again, hundreds of students were gathered in the gym to cheer on the contestants. Inevitably, a boy choked on one and came very close to dying in front of the entire high school. The paramedics were called and everyone sat in stunned silence while they worked. That was the last of the homecoming assemblies.
posted by theraflu at 1:11 PM on September 23, 2010

I forgot to add - middle schoolers also had "morning meeting" all together every morning, in lieu of homerooms.

Also, my little sister ended up leaving after middle school, and went to a giant high school with the exact sort of assemblies anti social order describes.
posted by heyforfour at 1:12 PM on September 23, 2010


We had the Duncan yo yo champ come and do tricks sometime between k and 2nd grade. Man that was awesome. He gave us all yo-yos and signed them if you wanted. I was sure he was the most famous man in the world.

We had some football player who got in trouble with drugs come in and tell us how bad he screwed up. It didn't make much sense to us. Seemed like it was part of his probation even to us 8th graders. Still was cool to get out of class


Our anti-drug counselor made us all get in the auditorium and them proceeded
to play "Whitney Houston's Greatest Love of All on a boom box and wanted us to "just listen to the words". In the middle of it some girl stood up and said "this is bullshit, I'm not doing this and stormed off".
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:12 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

A guy came in who had no arms and played the drums with his feet. Inspires me to this day.
posted by thorny at 1:14 PM on September 23, 2010

1970s, suburban NY: we had assemblies for first day of school welcoming address, presenting awards at the end of the year, pep rallies for big sports events, and "OK you punks, here's what you're NOT gonna do to fuck up the graduation ceremony". The pep rallies were particularly loathsome but all were totally useless. And more boring than math class, except you could fidget a lot more.
posted by Quietgal at 1:16 PM on September 23, 2010

Late-80's, suburban Jersey... we had tons. My favorites were the impromptu "let's watch a lot of filmstrips because the furnace is busted and we can't herd you little bastards into ice-cold classrooms" ones! We'd watch ancient educational films; rarely, people from the community would give presentations (I remember a karate school instructor bending a butter knife on his tensed abs).
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:21 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Final game of the 1972 Canada Russia hockey series. TV sets set up all around the auditorium. Henderson scores.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:25 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

At some pep rally, the high school principal drank soda out of a shoe. I think it was his. Until that point, I thought he was a pretty decent principal. Otherwise, I don't remember any assemblies.

My wife teaches at a high school, and every year they have an Every 15 Minutes program/ re-enactment/ whatnot, often including a medevac helicopter take the "dying" student away. I'm not sure the impact on kids when it happens every year.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:28 PM on September 23, 2010

Elementary school had two that I can remember pretty clearly. The first was the town's Chief of Police, right before Halloween, warning us about how creepy strangers put drugs in the temporary tattoos and glass in the apples (I have not had a temporary tattoo, ever, because of the paranoia that guy instilled in me). The second, two mayors from - Mississippi? - towns came with a slide show to give us some first hand experience about the flooding that was occurring - it was a good insight into other areas of the country and the difficulties they face.

High school, the only one I can remember was an "inspirational speaker" who used to play football for the Eagles. Most of the talk was centered around how awesome playing professional football was and complaining that his yearly salary was smaller than the quarterback's individual game checks.

We also had the usual assortment of awards ceremonies, the occasional talent show and band recital - the usual school stuff.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:28 PM on September 23, 2010

Elementary school (Winter Park, FL) 1970s:

Strange chorus performances that we were forced to participate in every year:

"Fifty Nifty United States
From 13 original colonies..." This one earworms from time to time and drives me nuts.

"George Washington is Great" Songs about everything that has to do with the word "Washington".

A Native American guy called Chief Half-Town used to come to our school once or twice a year and talk about stuff that I can't remember anymore. Then we could go to the Brunswick Bowling Lanes for free that afternoon for a party that this guy subsidized.

I can't believe I remember this stuff...
posted by sundrop at 1:28 PM on September 23, 2010

From elementary in the 70's we'd have assemblies where they would show Disney movies - this was waaaaay before VCRs and just anyone could show a Disney movie in their home, so it was a big deal. I remember some plays and a Free To Be You and Me thing too. We also had a guy come in with animals - he kept telling us they were safe to pet, but he was missing a few fingers, so no one believed him.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:30 PM on September 23, 2010

I remember an assembly my senior year -- it may have been only seniors -- about safe sex. I learned that saran wrap can be used as a dental dam in a pinch.

I remember attending pep rallies, but mainly that they were dull. Though I am still impressed by cheerleaders throwing each other around.
posted by freshwater at 1:35 PM on September 23, 2010

We had assemblies every week in elementary school, IIRC (mid-late 80s, Vancouver suburb). What the purpose of them was, I have no idea... but things like awards were handed out then. The positive experience I remember though? Our elementary schools were kindergarten to Grade 7. The Grade 7 band played 'O Canada' every week at the beginning of the assembly. This was cool because (a) it was fun, and we were actually pretty good at it, and (b) we got to sit in actual chairs at the side instead of sitting cross-legged in perfect little rows on the floor. In terms of things going wrong - once a music stand got knocked over in the middle of the anthem and started a domino reaction of fallen music stands (ok, it was only 3, but still). Somehow, we got though the entire song before killing ourselves laughing.
posted by cgg at 1:36 PM on September 23, 2010

At one school I attended, assemblies were weekly and always involved singing, which I liked.

In those days all Quebec public schools were religious; some were Catholic and the rest were "Protestant," which meant everyone else. At one point the principal at my "Protestant" school got uncomfortable about all the not-so-Christian families in the school and announced that anyone who preferred to leave the room for the hymns and Our Father was welcome to do so. He got one taker: me.

And then I realized that I wasn't going to get to sing. I was sorry about that, because singing was pretty much the best thing about that school, but I stayed out after that. It felt like a matter of principle.
posted by tangerine at 1:52 PM on September 23, 2010

Elementary school: musical guests, a guy with a laser, dudes with snakes, and some dentist with a video about dental hygiene (everyone got toothbrushes). The best all-school activities were field days and Halloween. The one standout assembly was actually Chris & Martin Kratt, pre-Kratt's Creatures, with what was essentially a pilot of the show from a trip to Madagascar. Must've been in the very early 90s, but it stuck with me.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:56 PM on September 23, 2010

Here's a disastrously wrong one:

Our junior high class had a disaster porn assembly. I think it might have been the "Trauma Nurses Talk Tough" one (or that could have been a different time). It had a lot of "drugs are bad mmkay" bullshit, and there were videos, slides, and speakers.

It was overwrought, maudlin, hysterical propaganda, and many of the stories did not ring true. The audience became restless, and there was a general sense that we were being condescended to. At one point, a presenter showed a slide of a man shot in a "drug deal gone bad." But then! She described how the injured party was the drug dealer himself and he had tripped or something while trying to pull his gun out of a dresser drawer, and accidently shot himself in the stomach. Someone said loudly, "That's not a drug deal gone bad! That's a dumbass drug dealer who shot himself!" A ripple of laughter went through the auditorium and that sealed it. They had lost us.

Throughout the rest of the presentation, you could hear titters and commentary. The nail in the coffin was when a presenter talked about the popularity of beer among high school students. She mentioned that the problem is that "it's cheap and easy to get." Someone yelled, "Hey Bob, they're talking about your girlfriend!" and the shit hit the fan. We couldn't stop laughing.

They may have cut the presentation short. Then we got a lecture from one of the presenting team about how in all the dozens or hundreds of presentations they've done, we were the most rowdy, obnoxious, disrespectful group they'd ever spoken to. That about sums up my junior year.
posted by peep at 2:01 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Early 90s, Southern California public elementary school: An awesome anti-peer pressure/anti-drug puppet show with am Evel Knievel-type character whose catchphrase was "Ouchie Wa Wa." I wish I could remember more about that.

Then there was always a big end of year musical put on by the sixth graders, which when I was in it involved vignettes drawn from 20th century American history and accompanied by popular music from whatever period was being depicted. There was a "This Land is My Land" scene, a "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" scene, a "Johnny B. Goode" one, something with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc. I played John Erlichman in one section and one of my lines was to yell "Rosemary!" I don't know if this was something written by the music teacher or if other schools did it too, but it was pretty cool.

And then in high school the usual talent shows, pep rallies, band concerts, student council debates, and MADD presentations. Mostly boring.
posted by CheeseLouise at 2:04 PM on September 23, 2010

I remember having TONS of assemblies in elementary school (middle-class, SF Bay Area suburb, 1990s). They were of various entertainment, educational, award-presenting themes.

- A yo-yo champ came to demonstrate. Totally entertaining. The flip-side was that it was a fundraising ploy to get us to buy yo-yos. I was probably in 4th grade and I bought like five yo-yos.
- Wild animals. Live. Parrots, snakes, other animals. Very cool. They brought some student volunteers up to the stage to interact with the animals.

- I vaguely remember some presentation about the merits of recycling. It was educational, even though I don't remember the details.
- One of the classes put on a play every year and presented it at an assembly during the day for the other students, and then again at night for the parents. (Rehearsal makes better)

- My elementary school had this annual fundraiser called the Turkey Trot. It was basically a walk-a-thon with sponsors for how many laps you could walk (in November). There were prizes for students who could raise the most money. If the school collectively raised enough money to meet some threshold, the principal would dress up in a turkey suit and sit on the roof one day. (that part was kind of cool). I digress. The public award of high fundraisers was sort of senseless since you sort of know their parents/relatives/neighbors paid for their award.

In middle and high school, they were more of the drug-free variety. My high school had this really neat way to drill into us the consequences of drunk driving. All the seniors in the school (and city really) were privy to a demonstration known as "sober graduation." A few members of the graduating class would show up to school (sometime in the spring) in ghoulish makeup and black hoodie sweatshirts. We would then attend an assembly showing videos of our classmates' former lives and how they tragically 'died' in a car wreck after too much drinking. They stayed in character all week. At the end of the week, all the high schools (5 in our city) were bussed to one of the football fields where actual wrecked cars lay in the middle of the field. They reinacted a car wreck scene for us, with the emergency response vehicles and everything. Definitely a very vivid demonstration of the dangers of drunk driving. I still remember it nearly a decade later, so it must have done its job.
posted by watch out for turtles at 2:04 PM on September 23, 2010

I remember:
Groups that would teach us traditional songs
A group of dancers/storytellers that came from Ghana and told us about life there
A group that came from the Sea Islands in Georgia USA to tell us about life/history there and their local language, Gullah (my first exposure to the idea that there were very different local dialects in different places in the US)
Flamenco dancers
In high school a program about drunk driving in which a man told of being awakened when a car drove into his bedroom and onto the bed, killing his wife instantly
Magic, juggling, acrobatics, that sort of thing - in which speakers emphasized the value of practicing hard to learn to do these things
Anything with live animals was great
A substitute teacher who read us The Highwayman

Whole group activities that were not assemblies:
Egg drop contest!
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:06 PM on September 23, 2010

The assemblies I remember hating were of the strictly preachy, don't-do-drugs, don't-bully, stay-in-school motivational type. I remember one from high school which was some guy droning on about how we shouldn't listen to people who were "dream busters".
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:08 PM on September 23, 2010

Best: Some sort of talent show in high school. A bunch of older, long-haired guys got up and jammed out on "Moby Dick." I was impressed they actually let them play a cool song, and loud.

Worst: All the others. Once some guy came who was a Vietnam vet I think. We were supposed to feel all guilt-tripped over some disfigurement he had, although I was far enough away I couldn't make it out and had to kind of take his word for it. The gist was something about how America is great and always do what the government says. At the end everyone stood and applauded but me. Kid of proud of that, actually.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:18 PM on September 23, 2010

Oh and another time this kid got up and sang "Jeremy" by Pearl Jam. Not only did he not say "fuck," he was afraid to say "breast" and changed it to "recess lady's chest" of his own volition.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:20 PM on September 23, 2010

Did you ever see an assembly go disastrously wrong?

Guy came in to talk about ... something. Depression or drunk driving or something. Somewhere during the presentation he told a story about his mother's tragic death which he could have prevented. He got to the line about finding the mother dead, paused for a dramatic hush, and was greeted by the sound of hysterical laughter from several girls seated at the very back and top of the bleachers. (They hadn't been listening to him and were laughing at something one of them had said.) The day after that, we had to have another assembly so the principal could tell the whole school about how hurt the guy had been and how awful we all were and how mortified all of the teachers were.

Among my friends it was automatically assumed that all motivational speakers and pep rallies were for the dumb ones; and anyone who claimed to have been moved or to have learned a life lesson was privately the subject of much fun.
posted by frobozz at 2:21 PM on September 23, 2010

I remember avoiding assemblies of the pep rally variety by hiding out with like-minded people in the music building. Good times.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:21 PM on September 23, 2010

I believe my elementary school also had a Halloween costume parade in the assembly room, field day(s?) at the end of the year, definitely class plays, spelling bee, music recitals, occasional watching a movie or Laurel and Hardy shorts.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:24 PM on September 23, 2010

Good: Being played the different suites from Holst's "The Planets" at top volume, one planet per day.

Bad: Having the headmistress read extracts from Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
posted by vickyverky at 2:27 PM on September 23, 2010

Bonus question: Did you ever see an assembly go disastrously wrong?

One day in junior high school, the entire student body was crammed into the assembly hall on seemingly the spur of the moment -- nobody had been told to anticipate this. So we're all packed in, the curtains part, and a band of muscular guys and an attractive female vocalist is there on the stage, and they start playing covers of popular songs. This is all very strange, but it's better than being in class. Then the band switches into feats-of-daring-and-strength mode. Fire-breathing. Ripping phone books in half. The kids are all excited.

Then everything quiets down, and the band leader starts talking very confidentially. About Jesus. Asking who wants to be saved. Then they wrap up by passing out New Testament half-bibles.

All of this in a public middle school, in Ohio.

I'm fairly sure that the administrators had no idea that anything preachy was going to be involved in this performance, since it could easily have opened them up to a lawsuit. The kids were swiftly shuffled out and back to their regular schedule, and nothing was ever said about the weird assembly again.
posted by jon1270 at 2:35 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was in junior- and high school in the 70s. Very long hair was popular for girls, and many of the girls, including me, had long, very blond hair.

The guy running the assembly asked for such girls before the assembly (there were 5 or 6; lots of Dutch/German/English/Swiss ancestry). He had us hold on to a large metal contraption about as high as a tower fan with a round top sort of like a gazing globe. It produced static electricity and made our hair stick out like giant dandelions. Some girls' hair was more dramatic than others, and he picked the one whose hair stuck out the most. Her hair was down to the small of her back, so that's, what, about three feet? (Mine was only down to the bottom of my shoulder blades.)

During the assembly, he asked the girl to come up to the stage, and had her drink a liquid he claimed had radioactive material in it that made her hair stick out while touching the metal thing. The drink was not part of the "audition."

We had this assembly 2 different years. Can you imagine today some guy handing a minor child in a school a drink of "radioactive" material??? No way.
posted by jgirl at 2:38 PM on September 23, 2010

At this moment, I remember precisely two of the assemblies I attended:
  1. In grade school, a talent show in which some kids danced to "Walk the Dinosaur" by Was Not Was. I thought it was awesome.
  2. September 11. They brought my class (the seniors) into the assembly room, and we watched the towers fall.

posted by ocherdraco at 2:39 PM on September 23, 2010

The one that stands out in my mind as the best was in junior high, when Odds Bodkin came and told a story -- something out of the Odyssey, I think? I fucking loved that.

The worst was the paralyzed guy who ran a local restaurant who talked about how he was paralyzed in a drunk driving accident when he was in high school. "I WAS JUST LIKE YOU," he bellowed. "I THOUGHT IT COULD NEVER HAPPEN TO ME." It struck me and my friends as massively condescending, and led to us making a huge amount of jokes at his expense afterward, which presumably was not the intended effect.

The only other one that I recall was a lady with AIDS who came to talk to us about AIDS, but that's mainly because I had French afterward, and we had to discuss the assembly in our shitty 9th-grade French. "Je pense... que... elle est malade. Mais... elle est aussi... jolie?"

Takeaway messages: assemblies generally sucked, but class sucked harder, so it was at least a nice break in the terrible monotony of the school week. The lack of follow-up discussion in most of my classes prevented us from really internalizing much. And any assembly with a didactic message was virtually guaranteed to elicit cooler-than-thou scoffing at said message, making them counterproductive, for the most part.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:41 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was in elementary school (huge, public, grades 3-5) in the late '80s, we had this thing every month called Hooray Day. I believe that they had it divided up so that each grade went in to its own assembly. Anyway, at each one they would have your basic juggling unicyclist or magician or science guy, but then they'd give out the (something I can't remember which I will refer to as the) Happygrams. They would describe one of the 300 kids sitting in front of them and how wonderful they were, and then they would announce the unsuspecting winner and OH MY GOD IT'S LIKE MISS AMERICA FOR FOURTH GRADE NERDS and call them up onstage and give them a Happygram certificate and some sort of cookie or something.

Up until that point I'd been your basic lazy non-doer-of-homework, so I got warning slips and recess detention all the damn time. (I was also on the math team.) But then I noticed that you couldn't get a Happygram if you had detention, and boy howdy did I want to get called up onstage. So within a couple of months, I went down from something like nine pink slips/three detentions to none, and kept on. It really was a good motivator.

Never did get a damn Happygram.

I did see the Sea Island Singers, which I assume was the Gullah group that LobsterMitten saw. I still have some of their songs stuck in my head.

My favorite middle school assembly was Alvin Law. I think I saw him three or four times at school and various student council conventions, etc., but seeing a guy play snare drums with his feet and talking about messing with other drivers at stoplights just never got old.

And then I was in high school and I planned the proms/dances/accompanying assemblies and everybody hated them, but I got to buy lots of shiny decorations and get out of class early. It was basically to introduce the sports teams and the Homecoming/Midwinter/Prom court (all different people, though it also meant that you could see in what order people were considered popular).

I believe that my senior year Homecoming court didn't even do skits, but just ran around in formalwear shooting Silly String, which was really too bad because the guy who ended up being king was known for the immense size and quantity of things he could fit in his pants (we're talking two-liter orange soda, six Super Ropes and a two-foot fire truck).

They announced the king and queen and then they tried to ride off into the sunset by using Big Wheels as scooters (in an evening gown and heels).

The end.
posted by Madamina at 3:16 PM on September 23, 2010

Best assembly ever: the illustrator for many of the Goosebumps books (Tim Jacobus) came to talk to us about the artistic process, the many facets of his job, and answered whatever we asked.

The reason I remember his name is because 3 of my friends and I decided it would be really cool to make up a song about him and sing it in front of everyone just as he arrived. He seemed really jazzed about it... the rest of my peers, not so much.
posted by rachaelfaith at 3:25 PM on September 23, 2010

The best was when they brought in an speaker who had been some sort of civilian supply runner in Bosnia during the war. She was interesting, and very hardcore (not surprisingly). Also, when she noticed two students chit-chatting, she swore at them and we were all very impressed with that.

The worst was the annual "surprise" birthday assembly for the principal where the entire student body was forced to sing the Carpenters' song "Close to You" to her. It was creepy.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 3:30 PM on September 23, 2010

The assemblies I remember the most were the ones at the end of the year in elementary school, when they handed out achievement awards, and all the students sang songs for the departing teachers :"So long, it's been good to know you!"

The funniest assembly I can remember featured a movie about what to do when getting lost in the woods.

The little boy in the movie farts around and wanders into the forest. Along the way he straddles a log and innocently pulls himself along it. To us kids it looked like he was humping a log, so the entire school started laughing. The principal got mad and turned off the projector.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:45 PM on September 23, 2010

We had "chapel" at our Christian school once a week. It was mostly forgettable motivational speakers, but one time we had Elvis's (step?) brother come and speak. I don't know why this particular speaker stuck in my head so much, but he WAS really interesting. I remember that he went way over time and no one cared because he had such good stories and had gotten really emotional when recalling Elvis's death. I almost wish I could hear more from him now that I'm an adult.
posted by bristolcat at 4:02 PM on September 23, 2010

The only assembly I can remember is when a man who I vaguely remembered as "a black preacher" came to speak to our school. He had the kids call-and-response-ing "I AM ... SOMEBODY!" and other self-esteem-boosting phrases. 10 years later when he got involved in national politics, I realized that Jesse Jackson was the "preacher" who came to our school.
posted by matildaben at 4:09 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

I really enjoyed our Remembrance Day assemblies. They were always beautifully done, very respectful and very sad.

One that I still remember tearing up at featured a slide show of old photos set to Celine Dion's "Fly" (what? we're Canadian!). Over those three minutes or so, we were left to reflect quietly on the frailty of life, of the immense loss and grief people suffered, and the message from surviving veterans - they sacrificed so that future generations wouldn't have to... "Lest we Forget." The soldiers in the photos, of all nationalities and races, reminiscent of the diversity at our school, reminded us of the arbitrariness of being on one side or another. Maybe I'm just big sap, but I'm getting all misty just thinking about it.

Anyway, those were the only assemblies where everyone really behaved themselves.
posted by keep it under cover at 4:11 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Golden State Warriors player (and former Knick) David Lee went to my high school, and we once had an assembly featuring him doing slam dunks and such.

We also had the horrifying drunk driving accident photo assembly. Someone fainted during it.
posted by evisceratordeath at 4:11 PM on September 23, 2010

Ah, assembly.

I went to an English grammar school in the seventies. It was old-school. It was an old-school school. The masters sat at the back of the stage and the headmaster, all decked out in mortar board and gown, acted as master of ceremonies from the lectern at front and centre. We had prayers. We had hymns. We had po-faced recitals of the order of the day and week. And then some wag in the massed ranks of standing schoolboys would let rip with a monumental fart. At that our noble head would scream and rage and demand that the guilty party own up. This would be followed by intermittent bottom burps (or simulated versions thereof) from various corners of the hall, delivered with varying degrees of confidence and a wide spectrum of intensity; from the timid tweet to the stentorian butt-blunderbuss. At this point our esteemed headmaster would hurl his greasy, doge-eared mortar board to the floor and screech "WE ABANDON THIS MORNING'S ASSEMBLY!" Oh, the jocularity.

This is why people find British males of my age troublesome. See, it isn't my fault. You people need to cut us some slack.
posted by Decani at 4:30 PM on September 23, 2010

Doge-eared? I am Venetian blind.
posted by Decani at 4:32 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Brandi (y?) the singer performed at an assembly at my high school in the mid 90s. This was immediately following a presentation on recycling where I was called up to the stage to participate in a glass/aluminum/plastic sorting game. It seemed as weird then as it does now.
posted by sulaine at 5:04 PM on September 23, 2010

I second the Remembrance Day assemblies as pretty moving. I remember a WWII vet spoke for at least one of them. We also had a guy reenact the warfield, and at the end we were supposed to realize that he and the German soldier were exactly the same - unfortunately he ran out of time and I don't think we got the emotional finale that was intended, since we were all scrambling to catch our buses. I also recall an assembly that may have been about drunk driving - the memorable part was an extremely loud 'clap' mimicking a car accident that scared the crap out of everyone. I loved assemblies as a kid.
posted by ghost dance beat at 5:15 PM on September 23, 2010

In elementary school, one of my classmates had a cousin who was an up and coming comedian and performer. She arranged for him to come perform at a school wide assembly. I only remember one thing he did. It was an Elvis impersonation. I do remember he did some other very strange scenes, but in hindsight it was probably pretty tame for Andy Kaufman. His material was so over this 4th grader's head that it was almost a surrealist performance of a whole different level than he intended. I do also remember laughing a lot. He made some really funny faces for a 4th grader to see. Whenever I saw Andy perform as I got older I could not shake the image of him at my grade school.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:41 PM on September 23, 2010

The best: Wheel of Wisdom came to my grade school for the 4-8th graders every year. It was really exciting for me, the Jeopardy enthusiast child, and one year, I was in it.

The not-as-great: A Cook County (Chicago) judge came to my high school to talk about the legal ramifications of drugs and alcohol. The talk started out with, "Never drive drunk" and meandered into a question-and-answer session about when you can get a DUI. Can I get one if I have the keys but put them somewhere else and passed out in the backseat? What about if I buried them? What about riding a bike? Walking a bike? (As I recall: yes, yes, yes, stop it.)

The worst: Miss Wisconsin or something coming for an abstinence-only assembly in my (Catholic) high school junior year, in which she discussed chastity bracelets. Dumb, yet expected.

Oh, also, the pro-life group who sang songs and was all Christian rock. That was just weird.
posted by quadrilaterals at 5:45 PM on September 23, 2010

Ray Bradbury came to my school when I was in sixth grade and spoke about science in science fiction.

We had an astronaut come who had been in orbit. I can't recall his name.

We had a local weatherman come.

These were all when I was 10 or 11 and I'm now 48. They were so cool. Especially the astronaut. I wish I could remember his name...I thought it was simply amazing that he had been in space.

Assemblies were always a departure from the norm, and no matter the topic, I loved getting out of class.
posted by littleflowers at 6:22 PM on September 23, 2010

Most memorable: at my (Roman Catholic) high school, we had an assembly about abstinence! The keynote speaker was a woman with eight kids and she was divorced. Her rallying cry was: "Do the right thing, wait for the ring!" She tried to get us all riled up, shouting it after her. Instead there was....crickets.

The audience in the room was just the senior class, a few of which already had kids of their own. Maybe she should have talked to the freshmen?

Second most memorable: right after a kid at my high school had died of "huffing" (by accidentally inhaling butane and setting his lungs on fire) we had a special assembly about the dangers of drugs and how the student was now going on to God. Many of those in the assembly were a bit irreverent and called the dead student a "dumbass".

Third most memorable: Senior graduation practice. One of our class set off pepper spray in the middle of the proceedings. We all scattered, gasping for breath. Then went next door to Perkins to eat pancakes and smoke cigarettes.
posted by medeine at 6:31 PM on September 23, 2010

A few assemblies which stood out for me were the ones where they wanted to have me stand up for a round of applause over my perfect Scholastic Aptitude Test. I was mysteriously absent when they first attempted that, because as with any other assembly I was hiding out in a sympathetic teacher's room playing chess. I was a little embarrassed when I found out.

A friend in the student government gave me a heads-up for the next such recognition attempt, so (other than my having to miss a few chess games) that was more successful for everyone involved.

They tried it again a third time, I think because some visiting bigwig was there and they wanted to show their support for academic success blah blah blah.. but this time without the advance notice. I wasn't at all embarrassed this time, because really, they should have learned their lesson.

Some lessons:

Although assemblies were never a complete waste of time, even the ones most oriented toward my demographic still weren't as good a use of my time as, say, yet another chess game.

You don't start the show before making sure the cast is all present and ready with their lines.

It's a big multiple choice test, not a terrorist bomb defusing. Making zero mistakes is still kind of cool, but not worth beating into the ground.
posted by roystgnr at 6:46 PM on September 23, 2010

I remember the Duncan Yo-Yo guy, Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, various cops and EMTs, but I most fondly remember a few Apollo events, including probably Apollo 13's landing. Does anyone remember which landing had 1 of the 3 parachutes that failed to open?

late '60s / early '70s Westchester and Dutchess counties, NY.

I always looked forward to them; it was something different and usually more interesting than eating paste and construction paper. Not always, but usually.
posted by KenManiac at 7:17 PM on September 23, 2010

I remember four in particular:
-National Geographic photographer (probably helped nudge me toward my career today)
-Elderly Sea Island storyteller (didn't know the oral tradition could be so intense)
-Mother of dead girl who died of a heart attack the first time she tried coke (I never had a desire to touch the stuff after that)
-Gorgeous model lady (she came to speak to the girls about the dangers of bulimia like jacked up teeth- and I stopped purging because I didn't want to deal with extensive dental reconstruction)

Assemblies are rad!
posted by TheGoldenOne at 7:35 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

We had Slim Goodbody come to school every couple of years in elementary school. He's sort of a Richard Simmons character who wears a suit with all the parts of the human body on it and sings songs about how great being healthy is. Even as a kid I thought he was a creep.

In high school we had a couple of people come talk to us about the dangers of AIDS (which had been hammered into our heads since we were 8 years old). I remember one dude talked about how he contracted it and someone asked if he told the people he had sex with that he was HIV-positive and he answered no, and all the students got REALLY pissed and started yelling at him and they ended the assembly early. Not really sure what we were supposed to learn from that.

My friend Ray won the New York State keyboarding (typing) championship in 11th grade and was the captain of the bowling team, which came in third in states that same year, and he had to get up and be recognized at a pep rally. He got more mocking applause than anyone else, but I think the football players and lacrosse players should have STFU because they never won anything.

I loved assemblies because I always skipped them and got a note from my debate coach that I was "working" and then sat in the courtyard and smoked cigarettes.
posted by alicetiara at 7:55 PM on September 23, 2010

I went to an urban Catholic high school in the Bay Area in the 1990s and every year a local African American official or artist would come and give a speech at the Black History Month assembly. My senior year the school apparently had some problems getting a member of the city council or whatever, because the person they chose was a black nationalist in camouflage Hammer-pants who ranted Holocaust denial and other anti-Semitic and anti-white remarks. Since the school was more than 50 percent white, and there were more Jews than one might expect, this was a stunning turn of affairs, but everyone was so stunned that nobody in the (mostly white and priestly) administration moved to stop it once it was clear what kind of speech it was. Of course, afterwords we all had to discuss it in our religious ethics classes.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 8:10 PM on September 23, 2010

Best ever from my perspective:

In third grade, a theater professor from the local state college came to give all the third-graders some kind of a "theater in Shakespeare's day" presentation. He started by showing us some basic theater tricks -- one I remember is "what they used for fake dogs onstage", and one trick was to take a piece of fur and throw it over your arm and use your arm as a sort of puppet. He showed us that (he was pretty good, actually) and let some of the kids in the front row "pet the dog" (and I was a little jealous that I was two rows back and couldn't).

His finale was one of Brutus' speeches from JULIUS CAESAR. He set the scene for us, and roped us all in -- "okay, what's happening is this man Brutus has just killed Caesar, and you're all Romans who are angry about that, and I'm Brutus trying to tell you why I did -- here, I'll put Caesar's robe right here -- so I want you to all yell 'KILL BRUTUS!'until I start talking, okay?" And so fifty little Connecticut 8-year-olds were all sitting in the gym and screaming "Kill Brutus!" for all we were worth, getting off on yelling, and suddenly he unleashes this huge, booming, classically-trained stage voice:


And all us kids instantly clammed up and we were in the palm of his hand. I remember not really understanding what he was talking about, but knowing with an absolute certainty that it must be something very, very important.

And that is probably one big reason why I went into working in theater when I grew up.


Best idea the school had, in retrospect:

In high school, they had a group from the Army or the Reserves come in as a sort of recruitment thing. But -- the group they sent was the base's ROCK BAND. Who actually weren't bad. So the recruitment pitch was sort of a half-hearted, "so, like, if y'all want to join the military, come talk to us after, 'cos it's not all tanks and stuff, sometimes we get to do this too," wedged in between songs, and the rest of it was, "so, how 'bout some Zepplin???"

I was a serious peacenik when I was a kid (more so than now), but even I appreciated good classic rock and so it turned out to be a decent afternoon.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:22 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was in elementary school in the '60s, BELL LABS sent out a guy who visited us once a year with a science Magic Show. (Guy had a German accent, and his overall presentation was highly reminiscent of von Braun.)

One year, he demo'd the newly-invented LASER, the first time anybody had ever seen one.

It was The Best Thing Ever, the high point of the year.

(Now that I think of it, I wish somebody would research this and do a FPP on it.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:21 PM on September 23, 2010

The best were definitely the ones with animals! I was also a sucker for plays no matter how terrible the acting. The worst were "educational" films. Especially the ones about drugs, abstinence, or whatever the fuck Cipher in the Snow was about.
posted by troublewithwolves at 10:19 PM on September 23, 2010

I only remember two assemblies, though I attended one every Friday, kindergarten through 12th grade.

#1: this was the mid-80's, and a group called the Children of War were touring around. It was 6 Palestinian kids and 6 Israeli kids - our age - and they talked about the senseless nature of what they'd seen in the conflict, which, at the time, was a fairly hot shooting war. Some had lost family members to bullets or to guerilla tactics. So they give their stories, and then turn it over to the audience for questions. Now the captain of our chess team, a Russian Jewish emigre, stands up, and starts battering these kids with really hard questions about how to partition Jerusalem, settlements and what should happen to them, refugees and how to house them, etc - really hard questions, the hard questions that are still deviling everyone who's campaigning for peace in the area today. The kids got really flustered and kept returning to the idea that regardless of the answers to those questions, people should stop shooting each other. Eventually our headmaster intervened, apologized, suggested the chess guy should apologize, and shut the assembly down. Chess guy would not apologize, however, and so he was suspended for a week for his conduct, which for our little school was the harshest penalty anyone could ever remember. He took it in stride and when he came back to school I remember him pointing out to me that sometimes if you believed something unpopular you had to suffer for it. The whole experience was an eye-opener in a lot of ways.

#2: Dr Drew came to an assembly and talked about his own personal experience with alcohol abuse. For whatever reason, his imagery was extraordinarily vivid and he held us all spellbound. I remember it like it was yesterday.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 10:37 PM on September 23, 2010

My 6th grade teacher screened Cipher in the Snow for the class; the message I inferred was neglected and ignored kids die.

Assemblies LAUSD 73-86:

The film about the kid whose friends shoplift; stopped after the grab.
White actors explaining Japanese theater.
A presentation with Latinos which included a woman saying that in her country she was considered white.
A Revolutionary War skit with George III repeatedly proclaiming "I'm the king of England, Ireland Wales and Scotland!"
A magician with wooden bunnies.
Someone who brought in snakes.
The "come walk a mile" bus manners movie with the mimes.
Several fund-raising assemblies to get kids to sell candy and magazines.
Monte Montana doing rope tricks.
A man who was blinded when he was fooling around with wood or metal (can't remember which).
Kids from another school singing 50's songs
Telly Savalas' nephew (no, he wasn't bald) and a friend of his staging The Odd Couple.
Bowdlerized performances of Oliver and Fiddler on the Roof

Most of these were pre-Proposition 13.
posted by brujita at 11:46 PM on September 23, 2010

I'm just out of High School in Australia. I don't know if it's because we were a private school, but we had all school assemblies every Tuesday and Thursday (Form/homeroom in the same timeslot on Mondays and Fridays, extended morning tea most Wednesdays). Once a month was a formal assembly (formal uniform, brought out the chairs). Mostly they just read out school notices, but formal assemblies were used to give out awards and to show off the school band, etc.
Best assembly was when we had a drive to raise money for some charity, and depending on what target we reached we could see certain teachers in school uniforn. Culminated with them raising a quick $200 off the audience in the last minute and we got the see two of the male science teachers in school dress. Shoulders were so broad they looked like Chinese swimmers. Best day of high school.
We had motivational speakers come as well, but they weren't thought of as assemblies.
posted by Saebrial at 12:23 AM on September 24, 2010

The first that comes to mind is a failed one from elementary school. We were supposed to watch a guy do some type of cultural demonstration, but the tornado sirens were going off, so we were all stuck sitting in the halls for a couple of hours. Long enough that they gave up on having us do duck-and-cover. They had the guy wander around the school doing mini-demonstrations to keep us entertained.

Another was a local weather guy came and talked about the weather. We submitted questions beforehand and he answered mine about if tornadoes had categories like hurricanes. This was probably in middle school.

We also had a guy come visit from a semi-local college and do a science demonstration in either elementary or middle school. He ended the presentation by throwing a ball frozen in liquid nitrogen against a wall, and then letting us take home some of the shattered pieces.

I just remember having pep rallies in high school.
posted by weskit at 1:07 AM on September 24, 2010

Oh, I just remembered an assembly that didn't go so well -- but that was more some of the audiences' fault. We had the "kids in my neighborhood" puppet thing -- mini-skits featuring puppet characters who were kids thad had different disabilities -- and after every skit, the floor opened up to "questions" for each of the different puppet characters.

But: there were some kids in my grammar school who spent each and every recess, without fail, playing kickball. And during this assembly, somehow they ended up in the front row. So each and every q-and-a section they had, sure enough, there was one of the kickball kids in the front row raising their hand and asking each of the puppets, "can you play kickball?" After about the sixth time, the puppeteers, who were by now visibly annoyed, broke character and said, "Okay, everybody, we promise you that EVERY one of the characters in this show can play kickball. Let's talk about something else from now on, okay?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:17 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Did you ever see an assembly go disastrously wrong?

January 28, 1986. Admittedly most of the littler kids did not know anything was wrong until they saw all the teachers crying.
posted by elizardbits at 4:55 AM on September 24, 2010

Best: Stevie Wonder performed at my high school as part of his effort to make MLK Jr.'s birthday a holiday in 1981.

I don't remember any others. That's the one we still talk about at reunions.
posted by MichelleinMD at 7:05 AM on September 24, 2010

At my Catholic, JROTC-recently-optional, sports-obsessed, recently-coed high school in the Twin Cities in the early 1980s, they got peace activist Colman McCarthy to come talk. He ran on at us about how we should rise up, disband the place, and recreate it as the nation's first "peace high school." The faculty just stood around the edges of the gym, arms crossed, mouths in thin, tight lines.

Near the end one wild kid, who'd apparently been waiting for his chance, yelled something loudly ("F yeah!" it may have been) and stormed out. We all watched him go, sure he'd get grabbed in the hallway by Brother Martell or Mister Kallok and hauled away to juvie. (Actually, Bro. Martell would probably have torn his arms off first, but whatever: doom in any case.)

(No, not Cormac McCarthy, but Coleman. Biiiiiiig difference.)

Everything else was endless pep rallies or events to remind us how important it was to sell SPAFF fund-raising tickets. Ugh. Beat class, anyway.

We also had the JROTC students march in review twice a year, and the whole school got out to watch one of them (Fall Review, I think). Pretty sweet, and way better than class. If you were in JROTC, you were let out extra early to get in your Class As and form up.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:31 AM on September 24, 2010

I remember one assembly from high school. This would have been in the mid-70s in a suburban public high school near Reading PA. It was an anti-abortion assembly complete with graphic photos and the usual horror stories. After it was over, the principal got up and made a somewhat apologetic statement about welcoming other viewpoints which made me think that he didn't quite know what the assembly was going to be about.
posted by maurice at 10:19 AM on September 24, 2010

« Older Should I reformat external hard drives for a Mac?   |   Singing the crybaby blues Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.