Connections are powerful. The bonds built between people and places—and even moments in time—can be everlasting. After a year-plus enduring the COVID-19 pandemic, there were fears that those connections would dim, but the power of the Gettysburg College community kept that spark strong.
Starting their college careers during a global health crisis, the Class of 2024’s anticipation and excitement for the First-Year Walk has built up over the past 13 months to this fall semester, as they finally were able to join as one inspiring class of Gettysburgians—in person.
“I am really delighted to be partaking in the First-Year Walk, a tradition that is deeply embedded in the history of Gettysburg College,” said Nigeria native Fadekemi Agboola ’24, a business, organizations, and management major. “Given the unforeseen circumstances of COVID, the Class of 2024 was not able to participate in the tradition that unites us as one big family. We started off the year feeling a little bit disconnected, but I am so glad that we are able to have the Walk this year. It will be the antidote to filling up the gap and giving us the opportunity to make real connections.”
Just like the First-Year Walk offers the opportunity for students to connect with their fellow classmates, it also provides a thread between the past and present. The sophomores gathered to reflect upon a significant moment in time in our nation’s history—with Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as its backdrop—but also a significant moment for their class. Their time to celebrate this tradition was here.
“Traditions matter. They are an important form of remembrance,” said President Bob Iuliano in Christ Chapel after a welcome from Anne Ehrlich, vice president of College Life and dean of students. “Your class is forging a distinctive legacy at Gettysburg College, and your story—one of character and perseverance in the face of adversity—is indeed worthy of celebration.”
Retracing the same steps taken in 1863 to the Gettysburg National Cemetery to hear President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the Class of 2024 opened their hearts and minds to draw connections over time through this beloved tradition.
The Gettysburg community again welcomed the sophomore class, complete with cheers and a T-shirt toss. The Majestic Theater’s marquee congratulated the class for their resolve after an unprecedented year.
“The cheerfulness and the hype from everyone welcoming us into the community—it’s what makes Gettysburg so great,” said Agboola. “Students dance to the rhythm of celebration and togetherness.”
Upon their arrival at the cemetery, a blanket of silence took over. Adela Holahan ’24 sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Class President Jack Comegno ’24 provided opening remarks, and Gettysburg Mayor Ted Streeter also spoke.
“Walking the footsteps of history presents a time for reflections,” Agboola continued. “It is a reminder of where it all began and a reminder of our responsibility to take a proactive stance on giving back to the community because we are afforded the opportunity to contribute to it.”
Lincoln’s charge in the Gettysburg Address, delivered this time by Economics Prof. Rimvydas Baltaduonis, asks for devotion to the “unfinished work” that still lies ahead. When Baltaduonis came to North America from Lithuania 20 years ago and arrived on campus eight years later, he witnessed firsthand our community truly making an impact. In fact, his Gettysburg students have gone on to build a library in Africa, bring sustainable fuel stoves to Latin America, design permit trade markets for carbon emissions in Australia, enable innovative blockchain technologies startups in China, and evaluate policies for alternative energy fuel in the United States and Europe.
So, “what can be done here?” Baltaduonis asked the Class of 2024. “During my tenure at Gettysburg College, I have seen again and again how our students, alums, faculty, administrators, and Gettysburg friends do answer the calls to act and to create positive change at local, national, and global scale.”
Through the First-Year Walk and recitation of the Gettysburg Address, our sophomore students began to more fully understand how they, too, could answer that call.
“The words of Abraham Lincoln have built its foothold not only within the campus but in the town. This tradition will amp us up in continuing the great work of our past leaders … [and] guide us into becoming changemakers, no matter where we find ourselves,” Agboola said.
“Together, we can do a lot from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—inspired by the history, by the passion, by the ideals of this place,” Baltaduonis concluded. “It is as timely as ever to dedicate ourselves on this great battlefield to the great task remaining before us.”
By Megan Miller
Photos by Shawna Sherrell and Hang Lian