Pilgrimage to Penfield tradition moves to Five Star Stadium this year

A historical marker noting "Old Mercer" is in front of a brick building with white columns

Throughout the course of students’ tenure at Mercer University, they are offered the chance to partake in a beloved tradition that has been a part of the institution for many years — Pilgrimage to Penfield.

Each year, the University arranges for hundreds of students to take a three-hour round-trip bus ride to the very first campus located in Penfield, Georgia. The campus houses the original university chapel, the foundation of the first academic building and several gravesites of individuals integral to Mercer’s founding, including Jesse Mercer.

Activities typically include a tour of the campus, speeches by beloved Mercerians imparting words of wisdom, a picnic and fireworks. The event is a highlight of the Mercer experience, immersing students in University culture and values.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the tradition will continue in a new way within the confines of Five Star Stadium on the Macon campus. The event will take place at 6 p.m. Oct. 17, and all are welcome. Those who plan to attend should RSVP here.

The Heritage Life Committee of Mercer’s Student Government Association organizes the event for the student body each year. Sophomore Rylan Allen, a member of the committee, believes that holding the event on campus benefits everyone involved.

“We didn’t want to cancel the event at all because most people that go are first-year students, and we still wanted them to have that experience,” Allen said. “Plus, having it here opens the doors to allow others to come.”

Despite the authentic experience being unavailable, the Heritage Life Committee is committed to providing one that will still leave an impact. Senior Mary-Angel Ekezie, the committee chair, hopes to conjure a parallel to the original experience.

“My committee and I have been working with Mercer’s Office of Marketing Communications to present a video that will capture that adventure of going to Pilgrimage,” Ekezie said. “And we’re still going to have our speakers who usually come, as well.”

Ekezie is eager for the activities planned to possibly spark new traditions in the otherwise established affair.

“I’m actually more excited because we get to do some things we can’t normally do at Penfield,” Ekezie said. “This year, the band will be joining us, and we’re going to be able to watch a movie afterward, which will be really fun after the event.”

Safety precautions have been a priority during campuswide events, and this one will follow suit. Carrie Ingoldsby, director of campus life and student involvement, emphasized the importance of abiding by CDC guidelines.

“We’ll have temperature checks when everyone walks in. We’ll have hand sanitizer stations, and, of course, masks are required as always,” Ingoldsby said. “We will also encourage students to socially distance in their seats.”

Although this event may look significantly different than in years past, students can still glean a sense of the defining qualities that have sustained Mercer since its founding in 1833.

“Mercer has come a long way from what it used to be,” Allen said, reflecting on his past experience with Pilgrimage to Penfield. “It’s made me really have a love for Mercer and really have an understanding about its values and tradition.”


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