In 2003, then-Student Orientation Coordinator Lindsay Morlock ’04 stumbled onto a unique story in the College’s history—one of many inextricable links between the campus and the town.
Morlock learned about how Gettysburg College alumnus David Wills was appointed by the governor of Pennsylvania to oversee the creation of a national cemetery for Union soldiers who died during the three-day battle that ravaged the town. He purchased land, arranged for a dedication ceremony, and invited President Abraham Lincoln to “say a few appropriate remarks.”
On the day of the dedication, classes were cancelled as students, faculty, and staff joined with community members in a walk to Wills’s house, where Lincoln was staying, greet him, and accompany him to the cemetery, where he delivered the now-famous 272 words that make up the Gettysburg Address.
Morlock was inspired by the story, which led to the introduction of the annual Orientation traditions, the First-Year Walk.
“In a few moments, you’ll walk the same route down Baltimore Street that students, faculty, and townspeople took as they followed President Lincoln to the cemetery’s dedication,” President Janet Morgan Riggs ’77 said to incoming students on Thursday evening prior to the walk. “I ask you to take this time to reflect upon what it must have been like for those Gettysburg students in 1863”
Upon arrival at the cemetery, students were welcomed to the community by Mayor Theodore Streeter, who gave a key to the borough to Carolyn Hauk ’21 on behalf of her class.
A recitation of the Gettysburg Address and remarks from Associate Provost for Faculty Development & Dean of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Programs and Africana Studies Prof. Jennifer Bloomquist encouraged students to examine not just the hope and promise of Lincoln’s famous words, but also the context in which the speech was delivered and the journey of the man himself to that moment.
After drawing parallels between the tense social and political atmosphere that came both before and after the Civil War, she shared a few words of advice to the incoming students.
“Like the country then, you are now at a turning point yourselves,” Bloomquist said. “It isn’t where you begin your journey but where you finish it that’s important.”
She used a quote from 20th century activist and author W.E.B. DuBois to illustrate what she meant, with Lincoln serving as the example.
“Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the greatest figure of the nineteenth century… I love him not because he was perfect but because he was not and yet triumphed,” Bloomquist quoted. “The world is full of people born hating and despising their fellows. To these I love to say: See this man. He was one of you and yet he became Abraham Lincoln."
Watch the First-Year Walk video above, or check out photos from the event on Flickr.