As the warm sun set over the Gettysburg College campus, and the chirping echoes of crickets signaled that fall was near, the Class of 2025 trekked together through the town of Gettysburg during the time-honored tradition of the First-Year Walk.
This tradition is one that only Gettysburgians can experience. It is unique to our historic place in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the Battle of Gettysburg occurred during the Civil War in 1863. It is beloved among our community, as it was our alumnus who invited President Abraham Lincoln to dedicate the Gettysburg National Cemetery in 1863, and it was our alumna who launched the First-Year Walk to commemorate these special events in 2003.
In Christ Chapel, after Anne Ehrlich, vice president of College Life and dean of students, welcomed the class, President Bob Iuliano set the scene for the Class of 2025.
“It is the summer of 1863, the Civil War is raging to the south of us and there is chatter—both on our campus and across town—that the war could soon make its way to Gettysburg,” he said.
On July 1, 1863, the Pennsylvania Hall Cupola became a lookout and its halls became a hospital for wounded soldiers. Gettysburg College students who then lived and learned in Pennsylvania Hall were sent home to take shelter.
Following the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest of the Civil War, David Wills, Class of 1851, personally invited President Abraham Lincoln to dedicate the Gettysburg National Cemetery on November 19, 1863. That day, Gettysburg students and townspeople walked to the cemetery to hear Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address.
“It is thanks to the initiative of our own Gettysburg alumnus, David Wills, that the Gettysburg Address came to be—one of the most important speeches the world has ever known,” Iuliano said.
More than 100 years later, Lindsay Morlock ’04 was moved when she learned of Wills’ efforts. She decided to recreate that walk—the First-Year Walk—that all students now partake in as part of their Orientation.
“The radiance of a community’s history often dims if it is overlooked or undervalued for long—that’s why traditions are so important,” said Iuliano. “Here we are, 18 years later, continuing Lindsay’s tradition!”
Before the Class of 2025 exited the chapel, they were invited to reflect on Gettysburg’s history when they walked through the town. The first-year students passed the David Wills House, where Lincoln was welcomed to stay prior to the dedication in 1863. Today, that same welcoming community greeted the Class of 2025 with applause, T-shirts, and other invitations to join them in their stores and restaurants, including coupons to Mr. G’s ice cream shop.
Upon arriving at the Gettysburg National Cemetery, the newest members of the Gettysburg community stepped into history. They proceeded to hear from Iuliano, Orientation coordinator Kayla Julio ’22, Gettysburg Mayor Ted Streeter, and the Gilder Lehrman-National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Civil War Era Studies and History Jim Downs. With reverence, they placed their hands on their hearts as they listened to the National Anthem, and then sat on hallowed ground to take in the Gettysburg Address.
“Two minutes in length, and timeless in its message,” said Iuliano on Lincoln’s Address. “Take a second to stop and reflect on this moment. May you consider the great tasks remaining before you today, as you strive to find higher purpose in this next stage of your life—and decide how you will use your education to nobly advance Lincoln’s charge.”
By Megan Miller
Photos by Shawna Sherrell and Hang Lian
Video by Abbey Frisco