The First-Year Walk and the power of place

Some locations have a sense of place – a feeling of connection to a geographic space and the events that occurred there, no matter how long ago they took place. During Thursday night’s 13th annual First-Year Walk, Gettysburg College’s incoming class was exposed to the power of place, both in regards to the three-day battle that raged here over 150 years ago and the words spoken here by President Abraham Lincoln that have forever defined that battle.

This year’s speaker – Associate Director of the Civil War Institute Jill Ogline Titus – imparted to the incoming class an understanding of the significance of our historic location.

“The Gettysburg Address has become arguably the most famous speech in American history – because of its eloquence and brevity, sure, but even more so because it took suffering and destruction and made meaning out of them,” Titus said. “It attached transcendent meaning to the battle of Gettysburg, and turned this war-ravaged town into a symbol of democracy and devotion to duty.”


She then described how our location and the meaning given to it by Lincoln’s words have been used as a rallying point throughout history. She shared how President Dwight D. Eisenhower used this location during the height of the Cold War to charge Americans to defend the rights of others as strenuously as they defend their own. In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson stood on the stage at the National Cemetery and called for an end to racial injustice. During the Vietnam War, civil rights activist C.T. Vivian used his platform here to compare the struggle for racial justice and peace in Vietnam with the Civil War soldiers who fought and died on the Gettysburg battlefields.

“Lincoln’s words continue to resonate with us because they belong not only to 1863, but to 1942, 1963, 1972, and 2015,” Titus said.

“How will you advance the unfinished work of justice?” she charged the Class of 2019. “How will you use the opportunities your Gettysburg College education will offer you to engage with the world around you and refuse to take the easy way out in life?”

The first-year students were also welcomed by Mayor William Troxell, who presented Andrew Dalton ’19 with a key to the city.

“I am very honored to accept this key on behalf of the Gettysburg College Class of 2019,” Dalton said. “It is a great welcoming gesture by the mayor and the town, and signifies that our class is now a part of not only Gettysburg College, but of the larger Gettysburg community.”


Now in its 13th year, the First-Year Walk brings together Gettysburg College faculty, staff, and students in recreating the historic walk to hear the Gettysburg Address.

In 1863, Gettysburg College students walked with President Lincoln to the newly opened Gettysburg National Cemetery, where Lincoln delivered one of the most well known speeches in history. It was an 1851 graduate of the College, David Wills, who invited Lincoln to deliver "a few appropriate remarks" at the cemetery’s dedication. Wills hosted the president in his home the night before the address.

“The First-Year Walk is my favorite Gettysburg College tradition,” said New Student Orientation Coordinator Rebecca Borovsky. “The opportunity for the incoming class to connect with the town, history, guests, and fellow students is a prime example of the strong community that Gettysburg College creates.”

Check out more from the First-Year Walk in our photo gallery:

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Kasey Varner, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6806

Posted: Fri, 28 Aug 2015

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