June 28th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

At Scripps College, the walls do talk

By Hannah Button and Michael Martinez, CNN

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.”

What kind of traditions do graduates from your school share? Share your memories in the comments, or tweet us @CNNschools!

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Big Ben

    Big whoop. Go to Univ. of Heidelberg and you'll see writings a lot older.

    June 30, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • AuntieDem

      Yeah , but it's all in German.

      June 30, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
  2. zandhcats

    I love all of the graffiti wall here, so artistic and creative.

    June 29, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  3. Lisa

    As a woman who keeps trying to graduate and make something of herself... The honor it would be to write on the wall after graduation, would be amazing. Congrats to those who have and keep going to those who will

    June 28, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
  4. socali

    I wonder how the wall would look like if it were an all men's college? Women write really neat.

    June 28, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  5. Miriam MacAllister

    gstlab3: I'll wager you've never visited the campus or talked to any of the students. The campus is a beautiful spot filled with sculpture and art. It is architecturally outstanding. The students come from all over the world and the graduates contribute mightily to important work in their fields. I'd be curious to note just what you consider an epicenter for what has gone right with America.

    June 28, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • Robbie

      The problem is when the girls graduate and have to deal with real world situations involving men they will not know how to handle themselves. They will clam up and revert back to the scared little girls they are.....they need the safety of only being around girls at this point....

      July 1, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
      • Lea

        Um Robbie? You trollin'? Scripps is a part of a 5C consortium, the other 4 colleges there are co-ed. There are men in your classes, dining halls, and crossing your campus and visiting your dorms. Hardly a hothouse of wilting lilies.

        July 1, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
  6. G to the T

    So I guess you didn't look at the slide show? The quality of the art is all over the place, as is the sentiments expressed. Kind of the point really – each reflects that class in some way.

    By "affirmative action" are you implying that as african-americans were let into the school, it somehow affected their art program?

    I'm sorry – I just have a lot of trouble translating from "Jerk"...

    June 28, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • Robbie

      Shush little girl....just shush and do not resort to name calling.

      July 1, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
  7. gstlab3

    I bet we can see a downward spiral of artistic talent if we just carbon date each area of this graffiti.,

    I bet the affirmative action crowd would deny this but a liberal arts college is an an epicenter for what has gone so wrong with America.

    June 28, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • Amy Sterling Casil

      We just painted our year (1983) and none of us remembered why we didn't do it when we graduated. It looks beautiful. I think I'm the "affirmative action" crowd. I was an independent, four-year full scholarship student. Looks like they made a good investment in me. Scripps College is anything but what's wrong with America. Go troll on someone your own size. But I guess there's not too much out there that's small enough.

      June 28, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
      • centurionoftheseed

        Well stated. It never ceases to amaze me just how inane people can be even in sight of something lovely and refreshing.

        June 30, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • Optimist

      Go hate somewhere else.

      June 28, 2013 at 10:58 pm |
    • sharky

      Low-info hater.....

      June 29, 2013 at 3:06 pm |