NinjaGrams Return: An Old Tradition Coming Back to Life

On Friday, Feb. 18, students were greeted in their classes and in Sharples by dueling ninjas, handmade cards, and homemade truffle treats on what some call “Ninja Day,” or the day that ninjas and ninja masters deliver NinjaGrams. NinjaGrams returned to Swarthmore after a year-long hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions on campus; some students might not know that it is a Swarthmore tradition dating back to 2007.

Ninjamasters Janet Barkdoll ’22 and Gidon Kaminer ’22 began organizing NinjaGrams this year in late January, with the help of Josiah Myers-Lipton ’23 and a cohort of interested students. Barkdoll explained that the Ninja Day process began with an interest meeting in the last week of January, followed by card making and truffle making in early February, two weeks before Ninja Day. 

Students purchased NinjaGrams in Sharples prior to Ninja Day. The recommended donation amount was $3 per NinjaGram with the option of purchasing two upgrades: dark chocolate homemade truffles for an additional $1 or ninja insurance for an additional $3. Ninja insurance is when two ninjas are sent to deliver the card and duel each other dramatically or when an invisible ninja bodyguard is sent to stay with the NinjaGram recipient all day to attack incoming ninjas. 

Traditionally, the proceeds from NinjaGrams are donated to a charitable organization. This year, proceeds will be donated to an international COVID-19 relief fund organized by Direct Relief. Barkdoll explained in an interview with The Phoenix, NinjaGram organizers shifted to a suggested donation model from a required donation model. Barkdoll explained the impetus behind shifting the donation model. 

“We wanted to keep it within the spirit of a fundraiser while also keeping in mind the cash free campus. It’s a little weird to have to pay to participate in something and so we really pushed the suggested donation this year,” Barkdoll explained. “People could donate anything from zero, like truly any amount of money that they wished, which was really important to us. And I’m hoping that that is something that can stay going forward.”

Barkdoll and Kaminer spread the word about NinjaGrams by tabling outside of Sharples prior to Ninja Day. Barkdoll explained how the tabling process was important for spreading the word about the long-held campus tradition to students who have never experienced a Ninja Day before.

“With COVID-19 and campus traditions [getting lost] and incoming students, we knew that some people really didn’t know what NinjaGrams was. And so part of our goal this year was just to get the word out and to bring NinjaGrams back … and keep it alive,” she said.

Despite concerns about getting the word out to new students, Barkdoll explained that NinjaGrams successfully raised a substantial amount of money, selling over 300 cards and 90 truffles, an increase from 60 truffles in Spring 2020. 

Students reflected on their experiences with NinjaGrams. In an interview with The Phoenix, Harry Hou ’25, who bought a NinjaGram, explained the change that the tradition brought to his routine as well as the opportunity to show his appreciation for his friends. 

“As a first-year, I didn’t know what to expect, but I appreciated how it was something different from my usual Swarthmore routine. One of my friends, Elsa Toland ’25, explained to me how the delivery process worked and convinced me to get a few,” Hou said. “I sent a few NinjaGrams to some friends in my Math Pi-Rate session. I was off campus the day they were delivered, but I think they appreciated the notes.”

Ninjas are trained to deliver their ninjagrams in comical ways to students, including ninjas battling each other in classrooms that have NinjaGram recipients. Elsa Nelson ’22 described her experience delivering NinjaGrams to students across campus.

“I was actually assigned to be a ninja in one of the classes I was already in. Another ninja and I dueled to death before I dramatically killed him,” said Nelson. “I was then betrayed and killed by the person I delivered the NinjaGram to. They then delivered two more NinjaGrams to other people in the room.”

In an interview with The Phoenix, Ava Pressman ’25 explained how, as a first-year student, she was excited to see the campus tradition come to life.

“The ninja who came to deliver grams to my class was actually in the class, so she put her stuff down, left the room, ran in to deliver them, and then left and entered the room again normally. It was really funny!,” she recounted. 
The elaborate process of making, planning, and delivering NinjaGrams relies heavily on student engagement and participation. For students interested in partaking in NinjaGrams next year, please email Gidon Kaminer (gkamine1@swarthmore.edu) or Janet Barkdoll (jbarkdo1@swarthmore.edu) to be added to the NinjaGrams listserv.

This article was corrected on February 24, 2022 to reflect updated information.

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