Penn students' joke issue stirs campus

Hope you're all enjoying spring break.  

Here's some non-district, University of Pennsylvania news from my colleague Liz Gormisky:

Penn students bemoaned the loss of beloved salad shop Sweetgreen and questioned the free student newspaper’s choice to start charging for online content today. But it was the lead story that really stirred up campus — the university decided to replace commencement speaker Geoffrey Canada.

Or so it seemed until the Daily Pennsylvanian revealed around 5:00 p.m. that the graduation drama was all part of the paper’s annual joke issue.

Coyly timed around — but never on — April Fool’s Day, the joke issue has caused a ruckus in previous years. A story about the U. of P. Federal Credit Union going under once caused a bank run. Chipotle was once forced to give out free burritos when the restaurant was swarmed after the joke issue had published about the special one-day-only deal.

A lead headline that two days would be added to the calendar to account for snow days left professors rescheduling exams and students rebooking flights home. Weeks later a teaching assistant still didn’t realize he had been duped.

This year’s commencement headline struck a controversial chord judging by the comments below it online.

Geoffrey Canada is the president and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone. His work focuses on creating a community for children after school closes for the day and ending the poverty cycle. His work has been successful, so much so that President Obama has praised Canada and called for programs to replicate the HCZ.

Not even a presidential seal of approval could undo one problem — most people haven’t heard of Canada. Since commencement speakers are often considered prestige symbols, Canada’s lack of name recognition provoked a chorus of annoyed Facebook statuses when he was announced as speaker in March.

The joke issue also revealed many Canada defenders, including Peter, who commented that “The ignorance of our school isn’t something we should be joking about.”

Laila wrote, “Uhh Duh… he is making a difference in education reform. I just don’t get it. Penn should be ashamed…”

The disgruntled senior class president — or at least someone using his name as their user ID — claimed his made-up comments supporting the decision to remove Canada were libel.

One of the tried-and-true traditions of the joke issue is crafting almost-believable quotes for popular student leaders and administrators

The remainder of the comments asked everyone to chill out and enjoy the humor.

As for the choice of spoof, DP Executive Editor Dana Tom said the joke issue is meant to reflect what the campus is talking about.

“It is something that’s been on our front page,” she said in reference to the Canada story.

Tom said fooling readers with the phony articles is “pretty satisfying” for the staff. 

Another staff, however, is always left a bit unsatisfied by Penn’s infamous prank. An editor or reporter from the Inquirer and Daily News falls for the issue every year.

--Liz Gormisky