April 2, 2023

Why don't we step on the seal? The history of a campus tradition.

A crowd of friends walks by a marble circle stamped into the ground. One begins to stray, inching closer toward it. The pack’s yells grow louder with each step their friend takes, but their fear doesn’t affect his decision. He steps on the forbidden stone.

A few minutes later, a girl is looking down at her phone. Suddenly, her sixth sense kicks in and she finds herself tip-toeing around the outline of the seal to avoid dooming her fate.

Each student shares the same knowledge of the California Baptist University seal in Stamps Courtyard but chooses to approach the situation differently. The seal holds so much power that an entire school knows the tradition it carries. Unless you kiss the ring on the other side of the courtyard, one foot on the crest and your graduation is toast.

At least that’s what your tour guides said. To determine if the seal’s spell is real or not, it is important to know its history.

It was 2003. The graduating class had recently gifted CBU with the infamous seal placed in the Courtyard. But when rush hour around classes hit, they noticed students would mindlessly walk over the shiny new gift — something that represents CBU’s identity.

Chris Hofschroer, assistant dean of students, witnessed the famous tradition start during his undergraduate years here at CBU in 2004.

“A bunch of people were out in the quad area for a student leadership conference, and everybody was like, ‘Man, people are walking on the seal, people should be more respectful.’ It’s the thing that identifies us — it’s our symbol,” Hofschroer said.

Hoping to lessen foot traffic over the seal, the band of students gathered to form a plan that would deter others from walking on the school’s identity.

“I remember sitting there and someone stepped on the seal, and they said, ‘Oh my gosh you stepped on the seal!’ And they told him, ‘You have to run over and kiss the ring because you won’t graduate on time!’ It was a total off-the-cuff, random situation,” Hofschroer said.

What may have been a joke to that student quickly became the new tradition on campus when news of kissing the ring spread and more and more people began to enforce the “rules.” Seventeen years later, the tradition still stands.

Many students around campus believe that stepping on the seal can lead to not graduating and don’t want to risk it.

“I tend to avoid stepping on the seal just out of habit since everyone I know has always avoided it since freshmen year,” said Anthony Lulo, senior business administration major. “I’m graduating this semester so I don’t want to take any chances.”

Some students, though, don’t fear the proclaimed destiny that lies under their feet. Morgan Bankole-Wright, sophomore communication sciences and disorders major, admits she has walked on it many times, unfazed by its potential jinx on her graduation.

“If it is in God’s purpose for my life that I should graduate, then I will live that purpose,” Bankole-Wright said. 

Yet,  she avoids walking over the seal when she can, out of fear that a CBU faculty member will call her out on it. 

“I am afraid they may pull me aside because I am breaking a long-held CBU tradition,” Bankole-Wright said.

Even for the nonbelievers, the seal is embedded with a ritual that people like to honor.

So, if the tradition is made up, why do we continue to walk around it as if it’s holy ground? CBU even blocks it off with rope on tour days, engraving it into prospective students’ minds that walking on it is discouraged. Hofschroer said the answer is simple.

“That’s how traditions are made across the country,” he said. “Students do something and it becomes immortalized. It’s passed down like a big game of telephone, and that’s why you do it.”

Many schools uphold traditions like these for decades: Harvard’s custom is to touch the left foot of the John Harvard statue for good luck; Murray State University students nail shoes on a tree for a happy marriage; Baylor University’s undergrads toss tortillas onto an isolated concrete structure in the middle of a river so they can graduate within four years.

Of course, the seal doesn’t possess the power to determine if you graduate or not. So, the rebel who boldly stomped on the seal might still graduate. Another may or may not have saved her future by catching herself before she fell. God may decide that Bankole-Wright will graduate if it is part of his plan for her life, whether she honors the tradition or not. No one knows.

We do know that this tradition is now part of the university and will echo for generations

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