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Arch ceremony sets the march to '09 in motion

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Freshmen stride through Griffith Memorial Arch as faculty members cheer them on.

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FINDLAY - It's a tradition older than just about everyone at the University of Findlay, but its significance is not lost on the new generation of students.

Freshmen starting classes today took a ceremonial walk through the Griffith Memorial Arch yesterday afternoon - something they aren't to do again until they've got their degree in hand. Superstition has it that those who walk again through the arch before graduation day won't graduate.

"I walked through it as a freshman, and then I never did until I graduated last spring," said Whitney Haverfield, who works on campus as a videographer. "I remember walking through the grass beside it but never walking through it. I really don't believe in superstitions, but I guess I did for that."

Since 1923, University of Findlay freshmen have taken part in the ceremonial arch walk that is then repeated on their graduation day. Faculty line up on either side of the walkway and clap as the freshmen pass through, two-by-two.

"We've done it since the arch went up in 1923. It's part of the personality of the school that faculty are very, very involved with our students," explained Rebecca Shell, public relations officer for the university. "The arch ceremony represents the idea that the faculty usher the students in as freshmen and they will usher them out after graduation."

Cam Taylor recalled her march through the arch as a freshman in the fall of 1963. The retired schoolteacher said she doesn't recall understanding the significance of the walk at the time, but she soon learned to walk around the arch, not through it.

"You learned from upperclassmen that you just didn't do that," Mrs. Taylor said. "There was the superstition, and there still is to this day that if you walk though it before graduation that you will not graduate. At that time and through the years people would walk around it, and there were actually bare ground paths around it."

In 1990, the university moved the arch about 30 feet, rebuilt the brick pillars it sits on, and inscribed it with the school's new name, which changed from Findlay College to the University of Findlay in 1989. More recently, the university went ahead and installed sidewalks around the arch.

The arch was donated to the university by Mr. and Mrs. F.H. Griffith as a memorial to their daughter, Caddie A. Smith, a 1909 Findlay College graduate who died from intestinal flu in 1923.

According to a history of Findlay College by Richard Kern, Ms. Smith "was known for her wit, intelligence, good looks, and - at 5-foot-10 - her starring role on the girls basketball team." A teacher, she received a bachelor's and master's degree from Findlay College, serving as dean of women at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware at the time of her death.

Ms. Haverfield said the arch ceremony is old-fashioned but nice.

"I don't think you understand the meaning of it until you're in school," she said. "Later on you understand that it unites you with Findlay and makes you belong to Findlay."

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