At Scripps College, the walls do talk

Posted at 10:00 AM, Jun 29, 2013
 By Hannah Button and Michael Martinez

CLAREMONT, California (CNN) — Every year since 1931, students graduating from Scripps College have made their mark on the campus of the women’s college just before they say good-bye.

Every graduating class in the college’s 82 year history has painted a mural along the same wall, often signing all the graduates’ names.

It’s known on campus as “Graffiti Wall,” and it embodies the changing styles and ideas of generations of students at the all-women’s liberal arts college, the zeitgeist of their era.

“Graffiti Wall is a mirror reflecting the bold, historical heart of Scripps College,” said Lori Bettison-Varga, the college’s president. “The student-created pictures and words are powerful, authentic expressions of each graduating class.”

The mural is an ever-changing update to the campus’ colonial Spanish mission architecture, and a living history of the students’ experiences. What began as a whimsical show of school spirit is now a permanent fixture on the Southern California campus. The wall spans the length of a rose garden, creating a space of contemplation and relaxation on a campus, as well as a beloved spot for alumnae who visit.

“The value lies in the fact that the entire history of student life at the college is somewhat recorded on that wall,” said Scripps library director Judy Harvey Sahak, who describes herself as the school’s “unofficial historian.”

The earliest images evoke the genesis of Scripps, with paintings that show the construction of buildings and young women as scholars, or young women dancing.

By 1942, as World War II consumed the United States, seniors illustrated an angelic figure encapsulated by a dark cloud.

In the heyday of hippie culture, the class of 1969 drew a peace sign and wrote what became a signature slogan of the era: “Give peace a chance.”

A year later, graduates painted “Stop the war” in bold black scrawl, a sign of the unrest sparked by the Vietnam War.

In 1976, graduates wrote “Happy birthday America,” to celebrate the country’s bicentennial, and “Happy birthday Scripps,” to celebrate the 50th year since the college was endowed and campus construction began.

More recently, students from the class of 2011 referenced the struggling economy with their statement, “Changing the world despite it all.”

The graduates in Scripps’ latest class kept the tradition alive with a phrase: “Live confidently, courageously, hopefully,” and added their graduation year, 2013.

Their inscription borrows from remarks made by the school’s founder, Ellen Browning Scripps, a philanthropist whose vision for the school was “to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously and hopefully.”

Katie Carter, 22, was selected to be this year’s class artist. The earliest classes painted similar designs and figures, but the last few years have sparked explosions of color and expression across the wall, she said.

“As the classes progress, you start to see a lot of individuality,” Carter said.

The class of 2013’s mural is squeezed among images that go as far back as the 1930s.

“I think that’s my favorite part of the wall,” said Carter. “Today all the classes are mixed in and intertwined.”

Graduating senior Christina Noriega, a friend of Carter’s, said the 2013 mural is “the quintessential Scripps design.”

“It has wisteria, which I think really captures the spirit of Scripps’ beauty and one of the oldest and prettiest parts of campus, the Fowler Garden,” she said, referencing another beloved spot on campus.

The mural surrounds the door through which students symbolically leave campus after graduating, said Sahak, the college librarian.

“A women’s college does instill those feelings of optimism and confidence. You really can do anything,” Sahak said. “Having it near an exit symbolizes that the senior class is leaving, but will remain immortalized on campus forever.”

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