Every year at graduation, Helio, an ancient Chinese lantern symbolizing wisdom, is passed down from the senior class president to the incoming senior class president.
Helio was first introduced at Sequoia in 1900; it started out as a football trophy. The lamp was said to be from the gardens of a Chinese emperor and to have been carried around by missionaries during the 1849 Gold Rush—these claims have yet to be proven. During the 1920’s ownership of the lamp became a competition between the grades when underclassmen tried to steal the lamp from the seniors during the summer.
The original lamp was passed down every year until 1934 when it went missing. The Lamp of Learning, as it was rebranded when the tradition restarted with a new lamp a couple of years ago, continues to be passed down at graduation, and it currently resides in Principal Sean Priest’s office.
In May 1934, nine Sequoia students took a photo with Helio. James P. Mc Loughlin, one of the students, was tasked with holding onto the lamp until it was needed for a special school occasion because he was the only one who had a car nearby. He had locked the lamp in the rumble seat of his car until one night he had a date. That day he was afraid of losing Helio, so he placed it in the back room of the Piggly Wiggly Food Store in Menlo Park where he worked part time. A few days later, the lamp was gone.
“I thought perhaps one of my friends had taken it for a joke and it would turn up soon; however, it never showed up so that was not the case,” Mc Loughlin wrote in a letter in 1995 to Smoke Signals, Sequoia Alumni Association’s newsletter.
To this day, the original Helio has not been found—instead, the Lamp of Learning is passed down as a replacement.