The importance of traditions at Gettysburg College

Summer Burton ’23 and Matt Weller ’23
Summer Burton ’22 and Matt Weller ’22 outside Christ Chapel

As seniors reflecting on our college experience, we’ve come to realize the importance of Gettysburg’s traditions. Our time here would not be the same without these time-honored events. They bring us closer together and make our student body feel like a large family, while also connecting us to past Gettysburgians and the rich history of our school.

When you first arrive on campus, you will take part in Orientation, Convocation, and the First-Year Walk. Here, you’ll make some of your closest connections, whether they are professors, students, or staff. The two of us met on the steps of Christ Chapel during our First-Year Walk. We didn’t know it at the time, but that first introduction would lead to four years of close friendship and a shared love of Gettysburg College traditions.

Convocation for the Class of 2021 in August 2017
Convocation for the Class of 2021 in August 2017


Opening Convocation happens on the first day of Orientation. The entire first-year class sits on the lawn between Pennsylvania Hall and Musselman Library, two of our most distinctive campus buildings. This event serves as the official welcome to the Gettysburg community. At the end of the ceremony, we walk through Pennsylvania Hall to symbolize the start of our journey at Gettysburg. Four years later, the graduating class begins their Commencement ceremony in similar fashion, walking through Pennsylvania Hall in the opposite direction before sitting on the same lawn to receive their diplomas.

Our Convocation ceremony was on a particularly sunny day in August of 2018. We remember the Class of 2022 pins that were nestled in our programs, and singing our College Alma Mater together for the first time. Both of our families remained on campus to share this special moment with us. One of our parents is a Class of 1996 alumnus, and the smile and pride on his face as we exited the back of Penn Hall is something we will never forget.

First-Year Walk for the Class of 2022 in August 2018
First-Year Walk for the Class of 2022 in August 2018

First-Year Walk

This tradition is especially important to the two of us because this is where we met, despite growing up only 15 minutes away from each other in Maryland. Our story is not uncommon, as many Gettysburg alumni think back to Orientation as the start of their friendships.

The First-Year Walk begins at Christ Chapel on campus and follows the route through town that students took to watch President Abraham Lincoln deliver his famous Gettysburg Address in 1863. Today, a distinguished alumnus or guest delivers the same address and shares remarks on its continued relevance to our generation, and the mayor of Gettysburg also gives a speech and presents the first-year class with a key to the city.

As students walk the main street of Gettysburg, which is shut down for the event, townspeople come out and welcome them with cheers and gifts. Businesses hand out coupons, gift cards, and even deliver T-shirts by cannon as we walk. Both of us received a coupon to a local ice cream shop called Mr. G’s, which became a staple of many downtown journeys we shared during our first year of college.

Since then we have expanded our horizons to sharing meals at local restaurants, movie nights at the Majestic Theatre, and walks up to the town square. As upperclass students, we have continued to participate in this tradition either by standing on the sidewalks to cheer on the first-year students or performing in the Bullets Marching Band, playing our fight song in the town square.

Servo Thanksgiving 2019
Servo Thanksgiving 2019

Servo Thanksgiving

One of our other favorite traditions takes place right before Thanksgiving break, and is aptly-named Servo Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving dinner is a family-style meal instead of the usual buffet in Servo. Not only is this tradition a great way to spend time with your friends, but also allows for students who may not be able to travel home an opportunity to celebrate the holiday.

One of the aspects of this event that makes it truly ours is the fact that our professors and staff serve us a full dinner. During our first year, our College’s president even carved our turkey for us! The line for Servo Thanksgiving stretches through campus, with some students lining up hours in advance. There is often a race between athletic teams to see who can line up the earliest—the current record is 24 hours in advance!

Community is the center of the Gettysburg experience, and this tradition brings our entire community together. If your group doesn’t match the size of an available table, you are paired with another group of students to eat dinner. Our sophomore year, we both had to google how to carve a turkey for our designated turkey carver, but it was a great way to bond with our teammates and housemates. Servo Thanksgiving is definitely one of the most anticipated delights of the whole school year, second only to Servo’s famous cookies.

The first year of college is a time of transition for many reasons, from living away from home for the first time to becoming more independent. For us, these traditions have made Gettysburg feel like our second home. We love welcoming the incoming class to our Gettysburg family, and we look forward to sharing these traditions with our community one last time during our senior year.

Learn about all of our time-honored traditions here at Gettysburg College.

By Summer Burton ’22, music education major and peace and justice studies minor, and Matt Weller ’22, math major
Photos by Shawna Sherrell, Summer Burton ’22, and Matt Weller ’22
Posted: 08/20/21