All About the Climb
If it’s the Friday before Commencement and the weather is acceptable, you’ll likely find busloads of students departing with Susquehanna’s president for a hike up Mt. Mahanoy, 25 miles southeast of Selinsgrove. The hike is a longstanding tradition upheld for the past 10 years by President L. Jay Lemons, along with a few alumni who have made it their annual ritual.
So it was on May 14, when three buses occupied by about 100 graduating seniors rumbled away from Weber Chapel for the 40-minute drive to the base of the mountain. As the buses unloaded, Lemons gathered the students around him for a few words of encouragement and caution. “The weather is a little bit iffy,” he said, looking up at the gathering clouds on a sweltering, humid day. “I think we’re going to try and take our chance, but really, truly, safety is most important in my mind.” And with that, the group began its ascent.
The trail up Mt. Mahanoy is relatively short but steep. In less than an hour, hikers climb 1,400 feet up a dirt trail. On the best of days, it’s a difficult walk, but on this Friday afternoon the high humidity left most students drenched and out of breath by the time they reached the summit.
On the mountaintop, with a spectacular view of the river valley below, Jennifer Elick, associate professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, delivered the last lecture these students would likely hear from a Susquehanna faculty member. She described the topography, how it was carved by glaciers during the Ice Age and the flow of the Susquehanna River below.
Lemons then took the rocky podium, smiled and said, “Everyone who is on this mountainside has just completed requirements for graduation, right? So you’re done learning, right? No. The point is that in some ways, you’re just beginning your journey, and we’re grateful you’re up here.”
Lemons recounted for the assemblage the history of the hike, which dates back to the 19th century; noted that the tradition has waxed and waned; and then asked the students to participate in another tradition that has resurfaced in recent years: the singing of Susquehanna’s alma mater. Led by class valedictorian and music major Alicia Wyler, the hikers broke into an emotional rendition, accompanied by wind gusts whistling through the pines. Lemons offered to do a photo op, and then commanded that everyone head back down before the radio tower behind them turned into a lightning rod.
WEB EXTRA: See a video of the climb on Susquehanna’s YouTube channel.
Contributing writers to the People & Places section are Heather Cobun ‘10; Gerald S. Cohen, associate vice president for communications and chief communications officer; Stephanie Hines ‘04; and Charlotte Lotz ‘12.