PHILADELPHIA — The students at Germantown Friends School bought a zoo. No, really.
Organized by seniors (and best friends since middle school) Oscar Schwartz and Hugh Rigdon, the graduating class at the private Quaker school brought a petting zoo to campus as part of an end-of-year prank.
The pop-up zoo included turtles, rabbits, goats of all ages, a lizard, chickens, and the showstopping Percy the camel — about a dozen animals total — from Bucks County’s Peaceable Kingdom.
Seniors spent the morning taking photos, holding baby goats, and feeding grass to Percy, according to Schwartz, who said the organized chaos ended up disrupting classes for the day as teachers walked younger kids through the petting zoo.
“It was a funny little inconvenience,” said Amir Staten, a member of the senior class who’s off to Morehouse College in the fall. “As a whole big group we don’t get to interact too much, so this was nice for us to all share.”
The senior class showed up in their farmer best — overalls, pitchforks, and straw sun hats included — last Tuesday after Schwartz encouraged them via an email from an anonymous account.
Staten dressed the part in Timberlands, jeans, and a plaid shirt. He fed lettuce to Nutella, the hungriest baby goat, and laughed at the awe of the preschool and kindergarten students who skipped class to see the animals.
“They kept coming up to us and asking, ‘How did you guys get a camel on campus?’” Staten said, mimicking the small voice of a little kid. “It was so wholesome.”
The plan for the prank bubbled up during the fall semester. Rigdon said the pair left a couple of options on the cutting room floor, like having a mariachi band follow a faculty member around for the day, before settling on the petting zoo.
From there, the duo priced out petting zoos and compared animal options (the more exotic the better, per Schwartz) when they reached Peaceable Kingdom and learned about their star, Percy the camel.
“Once we saw that these guys had a camel, that sealed the deal for us,” said Rigdon, who is heading to George Washington University.
Rigdon and Schwartz split project management duties: Schwartz would coordinate with school administrators, confirm with the petting zoo, and lead fundraising among the senior class.
Schwartz said he fundraised the $1,300 cost of the petting zoo. Students were encouraged to donate $15 dollars, but some were so motivated by the thought of holding a tiny goat they chipped in more.
Rigdon was in charge of boosting morale and painting a 30-foot banner that hung on the front of the main campus building that read: “A campus camel?”
“A lot of people weren’t expecting it to go as well as it did,” said Schwartz, a soon-to-be University of Pennsylvania freshman. “People at first were like ‘Oh, it isn’t a prank, there isn’t a downside for the school.’”
Rigdon agreed: “The point wasn’t to do this at anyone’s expense. It didn’t really seem there was anyone who deserved to be pranked.”
Schwartz and Rigdon said faculty at Germantown friends were overwhelmingly supportive— including director of security and operations Deborah Mateffy, who allegedly told the boys it was “the best prank she had ever seen” in her 13 years of working there.
“This was such a goodwill effort,” said Germantown Friends spokesperson Hannah Henderson. “It was so clear that their intentions were good, so the path was cleared for them to do it.”
The senior class at Germantown Friends has less than 100 students, per Rigdon, and they graduate June 3.
“We’ve been getting closer throughout the end of the year,” said Schwartz. “But this definitely was the thing that really brought us together.”