Westminster’s former statue created a legacy of fun memories
by Michelle Barber Lyhnakis (MPC ’06)
It is not uncommon for campus visitors to ask why Westminster does not have a statue of its mascot. Mascot statues are typically deeply rooted in the history of higher education institutions—and are commonplace on college campuses. They play an essential role in campus traditions: just their presence builds pride and unity among students and alumni.
Once upon a time, a griffin statue did grace Westminster’s campus.
The concept was noble: a mighty griffin would perch upon a wooden pedestal in front of the Shaw Student Center to keep a watchful eye over Westminster students.
“The class of 2002 raised money for the statue,” says Tofi Ta’afua (’01, MBA ’03), who served as president of Associated Students of Westminster College (ASWC) at the time. “We unveiled the statue at their commencement ceremony.”
The statue would be the class of 2002’s lasting legacy as they were the last to enter Westminster as Parsons. In 1999, during their first year, Westminster officially changed the mascot from the parson—a minister whose presence on campus paid homage to Westminster’s Presbyterian roots—to the griffin, a mythological creature with the head, wings, and talons of an eagle, and the body, tail, and hind legs of a lion. The winged beast represented the king of all creatures, and the griffin was a fierce symbol of Westminster’s revitalized athletics program.
“Unfortunately, that statue didn’t quite turn out the way we envisioned,” says Adam Mangone (’02), who oversaw the finances for ASWC. “We may have still been trying to figure out what Westminster’s griffin looked like.”
Some jokingly referred to the statue as Peep, because they said the statue resembled a winged marshmallow peep, a popular Easter candy.
Still, the griffin statue became part of campus culture. ASWC created a new tradition involving the statue: In order to become a true Griffin, one must kiss someone special in front of the griffin statue at midnight on a designated night. It’s rumored many Westminster love stories started on True Griffin Night. Student clubs used the griffin to prop up signs to advertise events. The griffin was even spotted outfitted in a tuxedo with an oversized brandy snifter during a Westminster fundraising event.
The concrete-cast griffin was to stand proudly on Westminster’s campus to welcome students, alumni, and visitors. Less than a decade later—when the Meldrum Science Center was built and Tanner Plaza was renovated—the statue needed to be relocated to accommodate the new plaza design and bike racks. During this time, the griffin nested in the college’s maintenance facility while considerations were made for a permanent location. The griffin did come out for special occasions such as True Griffin Night and Family Weekend. For these events, the mighty griffin took center stage on an elevated platform in the center of Richer Commons.
Unfortunately, today, the griffin statue is gone. A few years ago, after one of these special occasions, a small group of students vandalized the statue beyond repair. College officials say the students admitted their poor decision and were remorseful for their actions.
“That’s too bad,” Adam says about the fate of the griffin statue. But not all was lost for the class of 2002. “The artist donated the statue to the college, and that allowed us to reallocate the money we raised to support a student scholarship.”
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.