It is freshman orientation time at colleges and universities across the country. Most schools have become very good at planning events and information sessions for first-year students. Some colleges have games and picnics. Other schools send freshmen into the streets to serve others.
But few of these freshman orientation traditions beat the Gettysburg College “First-Year Walk.” Students walk from the campus through the streets of the historic town of Gettysburg. Along the way they learn about the three-day battle that took place there in July 1863. The walk ends at the Gettysburg cemetery where Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is read at the spot where it was original delivered on November 19, 1863.
What impresses me the most about the “First-Year Walk” is the message that it is sending to incoming students. In an age in which so may colleges and universities are trying to ride the STEM wave, and humanistic learning is under attack in the academy, the good folks at Gettysburg are letting its freshman class know right from the beginning that history, ideas, memory, place, speech, and political philosophy matter and will be an important part, if not the defining part, of their four-year college career.
Here is a brief video of the 2015 “First Year Walk.” I was also pleased to see that my friend Jill Ogline Titus was picked to give this year’s keynote presentation. Jill is the Associate Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg and her husband Sean has done some adjunct work in the Messiah College History Department.