It's a Mercer family tradition

Why should we care about school traditions? They don’t even make sense half of the time. But traditions do not always have to make sense. Traditions give us the opportunity to link ourselves back to where we came from and move forward to what we are developing into.

Mercer University is an institution of higher learning that has been built upon traditions over the last 180 years. Dr. MaryAnne Drake has been a professor at Mercer for 32 years and has seen traditions come and go, but many of the most important have stuck with the school, she said.

Drake explained that traditions are important in life because she views them as “Glue. Bonding. [They] allow for common experiences – common ways to celebrate. [They] affirm who we are and what we do.”

Some of the most celebrated traditions, both social and academic, include Pilgrimage to Penfield, touching the Jesse Mercer statue, the Great Books program and climbing the Administration Tower.

Mercer University was originally established, not in Macon, but in Penfield, Ga. in 1833. The university relocated in 1871 to its current location. Every year, freshmen return to Mercer’s roots by journeying into the rural Greene County where Mercer’s original campus sat. The students join together to celebrate in the birthplace of our beloved school and share in activities including a fireworks show, a reenactment and a picnic.

Pilgrimage to Penfield has been a tradition at Mercer for many years, except when it was stopped for a brief period of time “until the students – SGA – decided that [the pilgrimage] was something we needed to do,” said Dr. Jay Black of the Center For Collaborative Journalism. The yearly pilgrimage is, as Black says, “organic” because it is not something faculty attempted to force on students but something that students valued and thought important enough to reestablish.

Every freshman also has the opportunity to rub the head of our beloved founder’s statue during Convocation to signify the beginning of
their academic careers at Mercer. Supposedly, rubbing the head of the statue of Jesse Mercer will bring good luck to students’ endeavors at Mercer. As students conclude their time at Mercer, they are again given the opportunity to rub our founder’s head on the eve of their graduation, so that they might gain good luck with their ambitions after leaving Mercer.

This tradition is another that was created and popularized by students. “The touching of Jesse Mercer’s head, the statue – it wasn’t a tradition until someone saw that this was a regular thing that students did,” said Black.

Another tradition involves the spires atop the Administration Building, which have become one of the most recognizable emblems of the University. Drake said that the tradition of climbing the tower and letting students sign their names has been at Mercer probably as long as she has. “I can’t remember not doing that actually,” said Drake.

Many of the most popular traditions are related to the more social aspects of our lives. However, Mercer also has academic traditions and traditional values which set it apart from other universities.

The Great Books program is an academic tradition and opportunity for students to experience “great” books from different periods throughout history.

Professor Charlotte Thomas speaks of the program as both a former student and a professor, “[Great Books] blew my mind as an 18 year old… to be liberated to develop my own interpretations of some of the oldest and most important thoughts that human beings have ever put down on paper. It blew my mind again in 1994 to have the chance to come back to Mercer to lead Great Books seminars as a faculty member.”

Great Books serves as a tradition and an opportunity to students that would not be offered in many other colleges.

One of Drake’s favorite characteristics of Mercer is “the tradition of small classes – the tradition of having close communications and close relationships with faculty and students.”

Accordingto Drake, “it’s important to have the official traditions, convocations and those things… they give the whole campus sort of a bonding experience. But probably the most important thing, for me, is small class sizes and the ability to be particularly close with students.”

At Mercer University students are not numbers. Students are individuals with names and faces and relationships with their professors that students at larger schools could only dream of having. Mercer provides students with a variety of learning opportunities that go hand in hand with appreciating the “official” traditions we have.

The best traditions are not the ones that are created for us but the ones that develop out of what matters to us. Traditions will not always last forever and new ones can be born. With the start of the new football program, there are sure to be new traditions for students to fall in love with for years to come.