The Michigan Daily Campus Life Beat has put together an interactive map of places to visit across campus and Ann Arbor, as well as important traditions to take part in before graduation. Find the rest of the project here.
Each fall, several incoming freshmen get their feet wet at the University of Michigan by wading through the famous fountain located outside the Michigan League to mark the start of their senior year. Then, in the spring, recent graduates walk through the fountain once more—but in the opposite direction, to symbolize the end of their Wolverine lives. While walk on the fountain touted as one of UM’s most common traditions on campus tours, it’s unclear how many students still participate.
LSA freshman Matthew Peel is one of the tour leaders Campus Day, a day for newly admitted students to explore the campus. Peale said that when he takes students around campus, he points out the fountain and explains the tradition.
“When you first arrive at Michigan, before you start your first class, you can walk through the fountain in the direction of Central Campus, marking the beginning of your time at the university,” Peale said. “Then, when you graduate, you’ll walk through the fountain again, but in a different direction to the Rackham Graduate building. It sort of marks the end of your time at university.’
The centerpiece of the fountain is the historic statue “Sunday morning in deep water”, created in 1940 by a Swedish artist Karl Miles. On it is a bronze image of Father Triton and his sons during a festive excursion. The sculpture for the university was ordered by Charles Baird — the first athletic director at the university — in memory of the late Michigan Supreme Court and his a childhood friend Justice Thomas M. Cooley, who was one of the first teachers of Michigan law and died in 1898.
Peale said he remembers the floor of the fountain being slippery when he walked through it as an incoming freshman, and he was afraid he would fall.
“It was a really, really hot day and it was really sunny, so I was sweating walking around campus trying to find the fountain,” Peele said. “But it was like, wow, here we are. I get to be a part of that tradition, I get to be at the University of Michigan, and I’m really excited for the next four years.”
Peale said the walk through the fountain was not a planned part of Peale’s freshman orientation and was something he sought out on his own. Other current UM students said they have never participated in the tradition.
For example, nursing freshman Anderson Riley said he knew about the fountain walk but never made an effort during orientation to participate. After orientation, he said he didn’t see the point in going back.
“I just never got around to it,” Riley said. “I was passing by, but my friends and I were going to play with someone and ended up not going through the fountain.”
For other students, orientation was online during the COVID-19 pandemic — and there was no way to go through the fountain above Zoom. In an interview with The Daily, LSA sophomore Isabella Pignatello explained that she did her research online and didn’t go through the fountain when she got to campus because she didn’t know it was a tradition.
“If I had known about it, and if I had seen other people doing it, and if it was a more common and well-known tradition, I would have participated in it,” Pignatello said.
Pignatella said UM traditions like the Fountain Walk may be part of campus culture, but it’s not the only thing that makes the university feel like home.
“I feel connected to Michigan, but not necessarily to all the traditions,” Pignatello said.
LSA student Elena Alik told The Daily that she didn’t walk through the fountain her freshman year because she didn’t know about the tradition at the time and heard about it later through word of mouth.
“I actually didn’t know such a tradition existed,” Alik said. “It seemed kind of familiar, but it wasn’t what was happening when I went to school because of (COVID-19).”
Although she didn’t walk through the fountain her freshman year, Alick said she still hopes to participate in the fountain walk as a senior during graduation.
“I’m hoping to be able to take part in my senior year and experience some of the tradition and understand it and what it means, but at the moment it seems kind of mysterious,” Alik said.
Daily reporters Madison Hammond and Ksenia Kobary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.