Despite heavy rains and sky-splitting lightning just hours before, about 500 new students gathered the night of August 17 for a special ceremony.
At 10 p.m., the incoming class of 2018 gathered in the circular courtyard outside the Penick Academic Complex. Each student took a polished stone from the fountain and followed the sidewalk to Miller Tower—a path lit by the candles of nearly 200 student leaders.
The candle-lit journey was part of a new Union University tradition called Lest We Forget. Jared Dauenhauer, assistant director of student leadership and engagement, spearheaded the project, which takes its name from the Union yearbook last published in 2001.
The concept sprang from discussion with students and faculty about the way Union views tradition, Dauenhauer said, as well as the role of Focus orientation week to communicate important messages to students. The aim of Lest We Forget, he said, is to impress on new students that they are part of a larger story at Union University, a story of God’s faithfulness in the past, present and future.
By placing the event on Sunday night, the conclusion of Focus week, Dauenhauer hopes to usher students into the midst of Union life: “You’re one of us. You’re no longer just this incoming student that nobody knows,” he said. “Once you participate in this tradition . . . you’re culturally here.”
Every step of the tradition is significant, Dauenhauer said. First, new students gathered at the fountain, a gift from the class of 1963 that recreates a gathering place on Union’s old campus.
The stones in the fountain had been placed and prayed over by student leaders representing Life Groups, Student Government Association, Student Activities Council and other organizations. These same leaders held the candles illuminating the walkway and represent “those who are going to help light the way for (new students) during their time at Union,” Dauenhauer said. In future years, he hopes more staff, faculty and alumni will participate to demonstrate their care for the students.
At the end of the ceremony, students placed their stones in a ring around the circle garden by Miller Tower. The stones are “a reminder, a memorial, an Ebenezer for them” of God’s continuing work in their lives, Dauenhauer said.
Each year before Focus begins, student leaders will recycle the rocks by placing them back in the fountain, Dauenhauer said. And the process repeats.
“The class of 2018, the class of 2022 will use those same rocks, and we’re just creating memorial after memorial after memorial in that space, all saying, ‘Let’s do this, lest we forget what God has done,’” Dauenhauer said.
Director of Discipleship Lee Wilson delivered a speech at Miller Tower as students gathered, holding their stones, on the still-damp earth of the Great Lawn. He described the moment as “monumental,” and said he himself had not been able to resist picking up a stone in order to participate.
“We are gathered here, in spite of the gnarly weather and late hour, because we do not want to miss this moment in your life,” Wilson said. “You are making a crossing, cutting across the border between all you have known and find comfortable and going into the unknown. A foreign landscape of uncertain relationships, ideas, decisions and responsibilities. It might be Mars. Or it might just be West Tennessee. But whatever it is, this crossing is marked by stones.”
Wilson introduced the new students to the upperclassmen who surrounded the area with candlelight, and encouraged them to absorb and reflect on the moment.
“This tradition is the first mark you are making in the story of your school,” he said. “This will become a sacred place, a remembering place. It will be a place to hold your memories as you hold your stones now. It is a place you are building.”
After the students placed their stones, Wilson and the upperclassmen led the group in a chant from the previous day’s spirit rally: “Never forget. Never forget. We. Are. Union.”
Hundreds of voices repeated the words twice. Then the students held up both hands in the form of a U before Wilson concluded with prayer.
Caroline Logan, freshman business major, said she did not know what to expect when she came to the event, but she was impressed by the symbolism and emotion of the experience. She feels honored that her class is the first to participate in the tradition, she said.
“It made me feel really special and important,” Logan said. “It made me feel like they really cared about all the students, like we weren’t just numbers. We were actual people.”
An earlier version of this article mistakenly attributed the submitted photos to Jared Dauenhauer instead of Kristi Woody. The article was updated Sept. 9 to correct the error.