Class of 2025 Steps Into Gettysburg Tradition with First-Year Walk
By Phoebe Doscher, Editor-in-Chief and Katie Oglesby, Magazine Editor
On Thursday, Aug. 26, the Class of 2025 participated in the First-Year Walk, beginning in the Chapel and ending at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The tradition is 17 years in the making, hearkening back to the 1863 trek to the Cemetery where students, faculty, and members of the community heard Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address.
The first-year class carried out the tradition of walking through town to hear the address delivered this year by Jim Downs, the Gilder Lehrman-National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Civil War Era Studies and History.
Before making the journey, President Bob Iuliano and Dean of Students Anne Ehrlich spoke to the students about the relevance of the historical tradition. Iuliano put the years-long tradition of walking through town into context with the current work and discourse ahead of the College’s newest students.
“As you do this walk, also be mindful of what you may see along the way: Confederate flags and other symbols of our nation’s past,” Iuliano said. “These symbols are powerful and painful reminders of the unfinished work still before us.”
Iuliano also spoke to the importance of the Gettysburg Address itself, as a precursor to a four-year educational experience steeped in history.
“I encourage all of you to take full advantage of this special occasion, and to reflect on every word of the address, and how it speaks to the nature of our democracy, of our world, and the commitments you want to make as students”
The students then made the walk through town to the Gettysburg National Cemetery. As per Cemetery guidelines, the group quieted upon entry, silently taking in the monuments and markers.
Liv Duffy ’22 sang the National Anthem and the Mayor of Gettysburg Theodore Streeter made opening remarks. He invited students to explore the area: “I hope you take the time to walk around the town to visit historic places to get a feel for what small town America is like.”
Streeter annually presents the key to the city to a student who represents the first-year class. Two years ago, he presented it to Thia Anyaoku ‘23. This year, he forgot, and promised to present it at a later date: “I can assure you that the key will be made and presented,” he said.
Iuliano addressed the first-year class once more, reminding them to soak in the speech for its brevity and profundity: “May you consider the great tasks remaining before you today as you try to find a higher purpose … and decide how you will use your education to notably advance.”
President Iuliano then introduced First-Year Walk Speaker, Professor Jim Downs, who recited the Gettysburg Address and gave a speech on its meaning.
Downs used the opportunity to highlight the forgotten voices of the Civil War and contextualize the Emancipation Proclamation: “Part of the Gettysburg Address is trying to create a sense of unity in a place that doesn’t feel that unified,” he said.
Drawing from his area of expertise in the history of medicine and public health, Downs elaborated on how infectious disease played a role in the Civil War. ”When we think about Lincoln as the Great Emancipator, we often don’t tell the larger stories that more people during the Civil War, whether they were soldiers, or whether they were formerly enslaved people, died of infectious disease,” he said.
To close out the ceremony, nationally-recognized military bugler Jari Villanueva played Taps. Villanueva served in the United States Air Force for 23 years, and now coordinates Taps Across America, 100 Nights of Taps, and Taps at the National WWI Memorial in Washington, D.C.