We Are (Not) Penn State
But Dickinson has its own famous lion
October 23, 2007
Students walk past the John Dickinson lion during the 2007 Convocation.
What's at the heart of a lion? No, not the Nittany Lion, Penn State's mascot, but rather the John Dickinson lion, an integral part of Dickinson College's long and illustrious history.
"He, too, is a Dickinson tradition," like Old West and the mermaid sitting atop the cupola, the Old Stone Steps, the Sign-In ceremony and the Benjamin Rush statue, said President William G. Durden '71 in his 2003 Convocation address. "The lion symbolizes our heritage, and more importantly, our spirit."
Acquired in 1939 from one of John Dickinson's heirs, the sculpted marble lion is present during Dickinson's most important ceremonies such as Convocation and Commencement. First-year and transfer students pass the lion for the Sign-In ceremony as part of Convocation, while seniors can contemplate their futures while gazing upon the statue in Memorial Hall prior to receiving their diplomas at Commencement.
Dickinson, whose 275th birthday is on Friday, Nov. 2, broke with old English aristocracy by choosing not to have a coat of arms in America, instead choosing an icon from his family's crest—a lion. It was one of his most valued possessions and was carefully moved with him as he traveled to his various homes.
According to Dickinson heir Maria Dickinson Logan, the lion was likely present in 1776 when Dickinson drafted the Articles of Confederation and while he wrote America's first patriotic song, The Liberty Song, which made famous the line "By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall."
As Durden noted during that same Convocation speech, "The lion gently, yet visibly reminds us to challenge constantly preconceived notions even if we end up reconfirming the status quo, to ask the difficult questions with civility, to engage actively big ideas and, ultimately, as for John Dickinson, to act according to our well-argued convictions—even if they cost us dearly—as it did him for not signing the Declaration of Independence." Dickinson would later sign the U.S. Constitution.
Andrew Williams '08