The tradition of the University of Georgia Arch dates back to a single student’s decision in 1905.
As a freshman, Daniel H. Redfearn was reportedly “so moved by the symbolic meaning of the Arch that he vowed to never pass through it until he had his diploma in hand,” said Steve Armour, a University Archivist of the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
However, according to Darby Miller, a senior marketing major from Arkansas and tour leader of the visitors center, walking around the Arch at that time wasn’t as easy as it is today.
“The fence on north campus actually used to go up to the Arch so not only was he walking around it, he was hopping over the fence,” Miller said.
Redfern’s vow didn’t mean much until he shared it with his English professor, Robert E. Park. Park, who would later become the namesake of Park Hall, shared Redfearn’s plan with his other students, who then chose to abide by the vow as well. Thus, the tradition was born.
The tradition has been preserved since Redfearn’s time at UGA and still prevails on campus today. Lucy Barrett, a senior English major from Kennesaw, said she first learned about the meaning and tradition of the Arch when she was on a formal tour of campus during her senior year of high school.
“It was so famous, but I had never really thought about one symbol representing the tradition of a university until that moment,” Barrett said. “I think that was also when the tour guides, who were students, half jokingly threatened our lives if we walked under it.”
The myths of why students should not to walk under the Arch before graduation range from going bald to never marrying to being infertile. The most well-known myth, however, coincides with Redfearn’s century-old vow. According to this idea, walking under the Arch prior to graduation will keep students from graduating on time or at all.
Although she is on track to graduate this May, Barrett said she wanted to respect this tradition by refraining from walking under the Arch until after she has received her diploma.
“It will be a huge relief to walk under it come May,” she said. “I treasure traditions and this one is no different.”
Barrett said she thought the myth was put in place less to scare freshman and more to give students confidence about the next four years.
“[The tradition] implies that if you don’t walk under the Arch, you will graduate, which is hope that all of us need to hold onto,” Barrett said.
Originally, all upperclassmen were free to walk under the Arch without penalty and only freshmen were subject to the consequences of the myth. In fact, this idea was taken so seriously that it was included in an issue of the student handbook, known as the “G” book.
“[The handbook] was published annually, and it always had a section of ‘Freshmen Rules,’” Armour said. “One of which was ‘Freshmen must not pass under the Arch at the entrance of campus.’”
Though the tradition had always aimed at incoming freshmen in the past, today it is understood that anyone who has not graduated, regardless of your year in school, is subject to the tradition.
Lawson Powers, a junior journalism major from Augusta, said he also learned about the tradition while on a tour of campus and has not yet walked through the Arch, but is planning to after he graduates.
“I don't care that much about the tradition,” Powers said. “If I were to forget and walk through, I wouldn't be too worried.”
Partially for this reason of unequal campus support, tour leaders from the visitor’s center have recently been instructed through President Morehead to no longer include the tradition of the Arch during campus tours.
“It’s not something that every student at UGA chooses to do. A vast majority choose to, but not every student,” Miller said.
Nia Hampton, a senior communications major from Snellville, is also a tour leader of the visitor’s center who said there were “issues with people feeling excluded from the tradition of the Arch” for disability reasons.
“[Sharing the tradition] was just not a wholesome representation of the University because not everyone participates in the tradition,” Hampton said.
Miller said the tour still includes information about “how wisdom, justice and moderation are what the three pillars stand for” and how walking through the gateway of campus after graduating is symbolic of walking “into the real world.”
Despite omitting the story on the tour, Hampton and Miller are both confident that the tradition will carry on.
“I think it’s cool that even now that we’re not spreading [that story], it will still be a sentiment and it will still be passed along through word of mouth,” Miller said.
Miller and Hampton said they, alike many other graduating seniors, are planning on walking through the Arch following graduation this May.