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The missed traditions at Westminster


The statue of Aunt Em welcomes the Westminster campus community with the return of in-person classes Aug. 18. First-year students are recommended to take a picture with Aunt Em to ensure they will have a good college experience, according to Maggie Regier, a Westminster alum with a degree in community, health and leadership. Photo courtesy of Anthony Giorgio.

From Late Night Breakfast to convocation, Westminster has over 140 years worth of traditions. Each year, students are introduced to both official and unofficial customs that give them a sense of community and school spirit.

When Westminster moved some of its courses from in-person to remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many traditions were either cancelled or turned virtual to keep the community safe. For incoming students last year, they may not have had the same introduction to the many customs that past students had. 

With the upcoming academic year and the return to an increased number of in-person classes, students and alumni discuss the missed traditions of Westminster.

A Year Without Traditions

Without events that may bring students together, the campus community felt different, according to Deaun Saxby, the Associated Students of Westminster (ASW) vice president and senior finance major.

“I felt the lack of school spirit,” Saxby said. “It just felt like everybody was going through the emotions and just trying to get through the year.”

Saxby had one in-person class during the 2020-2021 academic year and described the campus. It felt very unwelcoming, cold, and lonely, according to Saxby. 

For sophomore students, this year may be different compared to their first year at Westminster.

It was difficult to find a sense of belonging on campus, according to Ashlee Szwedko, the ASW events president and sophomore neuroscience major. 

“It was challenging to find things to be a part of because of the [COVID-19] pandemic, so my first year of college felt very isolated.” Szwedko said in an email. “I attempted to get involved and participate in on-campus traditions but like for everyone, it was difficult participating because of the situation we were in.” 

Reminiscing About Past Traditions

Upper-level students and alumni reflect on how Westminster’s campus was before COVID-19. 

To get a sense of what the Westminster community actually looks like when it celebrates customs and yearly events, students and alumni reflect on what tradition they first encountered.

“The first tradition I encountered was Griffin GearUp,” Saxby said. 

Griffin GearUp is an overnight event where admitted first-year students go to a cabin, play games and get to know each other after spending the day on campus learning about financial aid, registering for classes and meeting an academic advisor.

Saxby was in high school when she attended Griffin GearUp during her winter break. This tradition introduced students to one another and helped the incoming class find their first friends at Westminster, according to Saxby.

“I had already had a good sense of what Westminster was just based on the tour and different things like that,” Saxby said. “[Griffin GearUp] solidified why I wanted to go here.” 

Griffin GearUp resonated with many students on campus when they reflected on their first encounter. 

“I got to meet a lot of first-year students and create those bonds,” said Zaura Stokes, a senior educational studies major. “It was kind of like a taste of what college life would be like.”

Some sophomores did not encounter many traditions last year.

“The first and one of the only traditions I encountered was orientation,” Szwedko said. “[Orientation] meant a lot to me, especially in the pandemic, because I met so many new people and friends. It was exciting just to see other people and meet the students I would be going to school with.” 

Exploring the Unofficial Traditions on Campus

In addition to official traditions like Griffin GearUp, there are unofficial ones passed on from student to student.

There are seven things a person must experience to become a Westminster student, according to Stokes. They include:

  • See a squirrel on campus
  • Spot the campus cats
  • See a peacock
  • Fall asleep in the library
  • Have a phone call drop due to bad internet connection on campus
  • Write something on the Shaw Student Center whiteboard
  • See more than three people hammocking.

“If you saw that or did those things,” Stokes said, “then those are like unofficial signs that you are a true Westmisnter student and belong [here.]”

Another unofficial tradition requires students to take a photo with a statue on campus.

“The first tradition I encountered was Aunt Em,” said Maggie Regier, a Westminster alum with a degree in community, health and leadership. “There’s an urban legend that if you don’t take a photo with Aunt Em during your first year of college you won’t graduate in four years.”

Favored Traditions Among Upper-Level Students and Alumni

Traditions at Westminster are official to the college and unofficial ones that are passed from classes; however, there can also be traditions within different ASW clubs.

“One of my favorite traditions to do with the Black Student Union (BSU) was Expect The Great (ETG),” Jasmine McWilliams, an alum with a degree in psychology said in an email. 

ETG is a free college and career awareness and readiness conference for African, African-American and Black students and communities in Utah, according to the Expect the Great website. 

“ETG is where all of BSUs in Utah would come together for a 3 day conference to learn, connect, and party.” McWilliams said.

One of the best traditions is Late Night Breakfast, according to Saxby, ASW vice president and senior finance major said. 

Late Night Breakfast is a tradition during finals week where faculty and staff serve a free, midnight breakfast for students staying up late to study for finals.

“You could go eat for free with all your friends and have a good time,” Saxby said. “Most of the time people would go study and then when twelve o’clock hits [students would] go get the food.” 

For Late Night Breakfast, some give recommendations on how to have the best experience.

“When I went, I was studying with BSU,” Stokes said. “We all went as a group and a few of us went and snagged a table because there’s so many people there.” 

During her sophomore year in 2019, students packed the Shaw Student Center with two lines going out the door, according to Stokes. 

“If you’re with someone and if you’re okay splitting off, save a table,” Stokes said.

There are also off-campus traditions that Westminster celebrates.

Roller Disco is one of the best yearly customs, according to Regier.

“Everyone commits to the theme and gets dressed to the nines and skates very poorly all night,” Regier said. “It’s a lot of really fun music, skating around in your sparkly neon top and seeing all your friends you don’t get to interact with on an everyday basis.”

ASW also hosts an event called Casino Night.

“I’d also say people sleep on Casino Night,” Saxby said. “If I had to tell a first-year to go to one, it would be Casino Night because you get to dress up and look all cute.” 

Casino Night is an ASW event where students can dress up, gamble with free money and have mock-tails. Some years, there are themes such as a 1960’s night. 

“When [my friends and I] got there, there was a photo booth [at the entrance,]” Saxby said. “It was really fun, everybody was in hats and people had fake cigar things, you know the long stick? Or they had those really flowy dresses.”

Traditions Not to Miss Out on This Year

From alumni to current students at Westminster, here are some events to avoid missing out on: 

  • Late Night Breakfast
  • Capture the flag 
  • Sugar House Coffee buyout
  • ASW Clubs fair
  • Block party
  • Tailgate parties before sports games
  • The ghost tour
  • Casino Night
  • Roast’n’Toast
  • Roller Disco

Motivation to celebration traditions

From commuter students to students whose majors keep them busy, finding time to attend events and celebrate traditions may be difficult.

“College is hard and challenging,” McWilliams said. “[…] Being a part of clubs, exploring campus, and going to events can help it just a little bit, because there are also challenges that make things like this hard to do especially now.”

For some, it is about students going out of their comfort zone.

“I think just actively participating, trying to go, that’s all that college is about,” Stokes said, who was a commuter student during her first year. “Growing into the person you want to be and going out of your comfort zones. There’s always new fascinating people to meet and always really fun events to go to. Stretch your mind as a person and view it as a way to grow.”

To find the motivation to go to events, some students may need to push themselves.

“That’s my main piece of advice, being open and going out and seeking these events and having a good time,” Saxby said. “Your first college experience only happens once so make it a good one, especially for the sophomores.” 

When a student pushes themselves to go to events, they can find their community, according to Saxby.

“[The traditions] build community,” Saxby said. “They build bridges between people you may never have talked to. […] Especially with these events, they mix all majors, they mix all races, all ages, [and] all demographics that you can think of.”

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Cat Taylor is a junior communication major with a minor in art. For a year and a half, she worked as a communication coordinator for the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion where she co-created the social media campaign, “We Are Westminster” that discussed unconscious bias. In her free time, she can be seen drawing, playing video games and drinking a significant amount of coffee.

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