The First-Year Walk, a Gettysburg College tradition that witnesses the incoming first-year class travel through the community to the site of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, will alter its route through town on Aug. 25.
Working with local officials following changes in regulations related to public group gatherings and parades, College administrators altered the walk through the streets for the approximately 800 students and staff, which will begin at approximately 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Instead of occupying Baltimore Street for the majority of the walk, the campus ensemble will use South Washington Street to make its way to the National Cemetery on the south side of town. After hearing opening remarks from College President Bob Iuliano, students and staff will depart from Christ Chapel on campus and move down Carlisle Street into Lincoln Square. The crowd will then exit west onto Chambersburg Street before resuming the trek south on Washington Street.
The walk will continue down South Washington Street and cross over the intersection with Steinwehr Avenue to Taneytown Road. Students will pass the National Cemetery and enter a small field south of the parking lot adjacent to the Leister Farm House, site of Union General George Meade’s headquarters during the Battle of Gettysburg.
All members of the incoming class of students will listen to a rendition of Lincoln’s famous speech and keynote remarks by McKinley Melton, the Kermit O. Paxton and Renee A. Paxton Endowed Teaching Chair and associate professor of English. Gettysburg Mayor Rita Frealing will welcome the new members of the community and continue another time-honored tradition of giving the key to the city of Gettysburg to a representative of the first-year class. This year’s recipient is Gettysburg High School graduate Tiger Frenette.
“Gettysburg College is a very vibrant and important part of our community,” said Frealing. “I am honored to be participate in this year’s First-Year Walk and I want to congratulate the Class of 2026. Congratulations on entering college, a big step in your life’s course. And remember as members of the Gettysburg community, my door and ear are also available to you.”
Following the ceremony, the gathering will cross over Taneytown Road and walk through the National Cemetery alongside the final resting places of more than 3,500 soldiers from the Civil War and thousands of other soldiers from other American conflicts. Breaking up into smaller groups, students and staff will make their way back through town on sidewalks, giving the newcomers an opportunity to engage with the community and visit local businesses along the way.
“The First-Year Walk is one of our most cherished traditions,” said Iuliano. “From our students’ earliest moments on campus, they gain a deeper understanding of our history and how President Lincoln’s enduring Address continues to guide us today. In many ways, the First-Year Walk represents the very best of what it means to live and learn in this remarkable community. It is a truly moving event.”
Both the College and the town served as a backdrop for the bloodiest battle of the Civil War in the summer of 1863. The Pennsylvania Hall Cupola became a lookout and its halls became a hospital for wounded soldiers. In the months that followed, David Wills, Class of 1851, invited President Lincoln to come to Gettysburg to give “a few appropriate remarks” for the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
On November 19, 1863, Gettysburg students and townspeople walked to the cemetery to hear Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address. This monumental occasion in our nation’s history evolved into a unique tradition at the College that has helped usher in a new class of students every fall. Inspired by the original walk 140 years before, Gettysburg alumna Lindsay Morlock ’04 helped bring the current iteration to life in 2003.
The First-Year Walk is part of the College’s robust Orientation schedule to welcome new students and their families to the community. Students will arrive to campus for Move-In Day on the morning of Aug. 24 and engage in another tradition, Opening Convocation, later that afternoon.
Following Thursday’s walk to the National Cemetery, students will continue to learn about their new surroundings through events such as GIV (Gettysburg is Volunteering) Day on Aug. 26 and Explore Gettysburg sessions, which feature tours and events led by returning upperclassmen from Aug. 25-27. The first day of classes is set for Monday, Aug. 29.
By Corey Jewart
Photos by Shawna Sherrell