Who is in that Quaker suit?

Sporting bright blue shoes on his oversized feet,
He’s always on hand for a meet and greet,
A hat that says “Penn,” and a red and blue vest,
“P” for Pennsylvania sits proudly upon his chest,
With an ever-present smile and baby blue eyes,
He leads the crowd in roars and cries,
He does not speak, never utters a word,
Yet leads the Red and Blue Crew herd,
At football and basketball and sprint football too,
The Penn Quaker is his name, how do you do?

Over 6 feet tall with pearly whites,
He is the pride of Penn and all our might,
“Hurrah, hurrah Pennsylvania! Hurrah for the Red and the Blue!”
He is the embodiment of Penn’s ambition and spirit true,
Not the face of the University, the students will always be,
He is a symbol of Penn eminence, excellence, and glee,
The fan of all fans, a sixth man if you will,
272 years and he is glorious still.

Underneath that big head and well-upholstered body, five different students make the Penn Quaker come to life. Tradition insists that their identities remain secret, so in this story, they will be known as Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange, Mr. White, and Mr. Blonde.

Mr. Blue, a junior and the most veteran Quaker, became the mascot a year and a bit ago, succeeding one of his fraternity brothers.

“He thought it would be a fun thing for me to do since I was interested in sports and I’m a ridiculous person sometimes,” he says.

Mr. White, a freshman, and Mr. Brown, a sophomore, were recruited by Penn cheerleaders.

“I was really into sports in high school,” says Mr. White. “I didn’t play any sports but I would go to all the games and be really spirited, and I thought, ‘Why not be the mascot and continue that spiritedness?’”

The job qualifications include an outgoing personality, an excessive amount of energy and enthusiasm, and most importantly, not taking oneself too seriously.

And, like any top model, potential mascots should stand between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet tall.

“When you have a really tall Quaker and a really short Quaker, people can tell the difference,” Mr. Blue says. “But if you’re in the same height range, people don’t really notice.”

An aspiring Quaker must also be able to handle the heat and the smell of Lysol. The suit can be sweltering, even in the winter, and only one suit is shared among the five Quakers. The students split the time they spend in the suit during games, each taking a half. Mr. Orange, a freshman, says they probably go through two cans of Lysol an hour to keep the suit disinfected. “We keep Lysol in business,” he says.

“When it’s really hot out, it’s actually like being an athlete,” says Mr. Blue.

Moving in the suit is no picnic either. Mr. Blue says learning to move in the Quaker suit is like “learning a whole new body.”

“Even when you’re doing normal actions, like a high-five or clapping, you have to do it bigger,” he says. “Everything is bigger.”

Mr. White says his first time being in the suit was “insanely awkward.”

“It was a different experience because the mascot isn’t exactly a normal person,” he says. “It’s kind of a person-and-a-half, so you have to have over-exaggerated movements. That was something that took awhile to get down. “When you want to cover your eyes, you want to cover your own eyes, but you have to remember that [the mascot’s eyes] are like six inches above your actual head,” he adds.

The Quaker sees out of his mouth. “It’s awkward when people try to kiss you,” says Mr. Orange.

He speaks, yet he says nothing. “We have to say what we want through our motions and movements,” says Mr. Blonde, a freshman. “Everything we do has to be large and physical so that people can understand what we’re trying to say.”

Everybody loves the Quaker. Well, almost everyone. Some find him a bit ... creepy.

“It’s not just little kids that are scared, people our age are scared, too,” says Mr. Brown. Nevertheless, the Quaker makes it a point to win the hearts of the crowd.

“One of my projects during the game is to get one particular kid who’s scared of me to give me a high-five,” says Mr. Blue.

Last year, Mr. Brown, as part of the Quaker’s many community-service activities, helped a girl overcome her phobia of costume characters. “I worked with a psychologist in the area,” he says. “That was interesting, to say the least.”

(Almost) everybody loves the Quaker, and because of his universal adoration, the students say he can pretty much get away with anything, even slight mischief.

“We’re probably the only students at Penn allowed to walk up to [President] Amy Gutmann and kiss her and have it be completely appropriate,” says Mr. Brown.

Joe Neary, who oversees the Quaker as Penn’s cheerleading coach, says performing as the mascot is all about the students being creative and developing a persona.

“We do have certain requirements,” he says. “They’re not allowed to go out and be at parties with the suit on. Everything they do needs to be tasteful and in line with Penn’s culture and Penn’s traditions and what Penn stands for, but as long as they’re doing that, I want them to have fun with it.”

Penn Quaker

The Quaker never fights other mascots (he is a Quaker), but he has played chicken with the Saint Joseph’s Hawk and tinkered with the Drexel Dragon’s tail. “I think it’s a lot more common to have dance-offs than it is to fight,” says Mr. Brown. Pushup contests are frequent, too.

Mr. Blonde says the sense of anonymity allows the students to be whomever they want to be inside the suit. “You feel free to do anything you wouldn’t do otherwise,” he says. “When I’m myself, I’m concerned about what I do and say, and with the Quaker, I’m less so.”

“You really have an opportunity to change your personality, change who you are, change what you look like,” says Mr. Brown.

“Anytime you’re out there, you’re the Quaker,” says Mr. Blue. “The minute the head goes on, you’re no longer yourself.”

Mr. Orange says putting the Quaker suit on can be a break from the hassles of everyday life. “I find it kind of nice when I’m stressed to be in the suit because you kind of are someone different,” he says. “So the Quaker didn’t just fail a final, the Quaker didn’t just fail a midterm. It’s nice to be happy, and then just by being happy in the suit, you’re like, ‘Eh, it’s not that bad.’”

During the final basketball game of the season, any Quaker who is graduating takes off the mascot head and reveals his face so he can be recognized by the crowd.

All five students say they plan to continue portraying the Quaker until they graduate.

“It’s kind of like the best deal at school,” says Mr. Orange. “Everyone’s like, ‘Whoa, how’d you get that?’”

Curious about some of the Penn Quaker's favorite campus haunts? Go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/universityofpennsylvania/sets/72157628856308667/ to view a slideshow.

Originally published on January 19, 2012