Eric Tepper (C '17) was beheaded last weekend.
“I wanted to come to Penn and do something different that I could never have imagined,” he says. It's a statement more than a few Penn students have said before, often before following a friend to a GBM or signing up for listservs on Locust. But Eric went beyond the usual measures to branch out: He became the Quaker mascot.
The identity of the Quaker is traditionally kept secret until the official “beheading” ceremony during senior year. There are usually around 3–5 students that rotate in their role as mascot, agreeing not to disclose their involvement. This anonymity is meant to foster a cohesive Quaker persona, not including the person inside.
Riad Hamade (C, E '17), a friend of Eric’s, had no idea Eric's alter ego existed. “We met freshman year before NSO, during Pennacle,” Riad says “so I knew one of our leaders was the Quaker. But I didn’t know he passed it to Eric. He would always be like, ‘You guys should come to the basketball games,’ but no one really took it seriously. In retrospect, I should have known. He had so much school spirit.”
Eric can’t quite remember if he decided to try out as a joke or if it was a serious attempt. He suspects it was partly both. Quaker tryouts consist of behavioral and practical components, with a Q&A period and time to show what you can do in the actual suit. The Quaker is officially part of Penn’s cheerleading team, a varsity Division I athlete. "...I see the work that goes into it," Eric says. "Cheerleading is the only team that technically gets to 'play' in both the Palestra and Franklin Field, which has been really cool."
Eric is also involved in student government, the Orthodox community at Hillel, Prism and Pennacle. Serving as mascot captain over the past two years, Eric has been in charge of logistics and making sure all events are covered. His "beheading" took place this past Sunday at the men’s basketball game. “It’s definitely something I’ve been looking forward to," Eric shares, “Since I started, I’ve thought it’s a really fun tradition, going along with it being secretive. In some ways it was a normal game, but very different and exciting in that moment. The announcer spoke a bit about me. During the last timeout, all the cheerleaders lined up and created a tunnel. I walked out onto center court, and they took off the head." Eric smiles. "It was an amazing feeling.”
Eric says he's still in awe every time he steps onto Franklin Field. "I think it’s the kind of rush a lot of athletes get. Once again it’s harder in the suit being really hot and smelly. You trip a bunch of times too,” Eric laughs. The Quaker team also does athletic promotional events. “One time I even did a bar mitzvah in South Jersey. It was mascot madness–themed. We’ve been asked to do weddings. Today, they filmed a Valentine’s Day video, and I even gave flowers to Amy Gutmann," Eric says.
"Eric is a very serious person when it comes to work and getting things done," Riad says. "He's one of the most accomplished people on the Undergraduate Assembly. We call him the grandfather of the UA. He’s definitely a chill, calm person, but isn’t timid." Eric admits that he feels more comfortable being bold in the suit.
Eric will remain at Penn to get his master's degree here next year, but he has mixed feelings about leaving the mascot costume behind.
“It's a bittersweet ending," he says. "But it's been a great experience: being part of a small and secretive tradition at Penn while also sharing it with a close group of friends.”