It’s a tradition that harkens back to Scripps College’s earliest years: As Commencement approaches, the graduating class inscribes a section of Graffiti Wall with student signatures and a mural representing their time at the College. Decorating the open-air passageway that connects Toll and Browning residence halls and located adjacent to the Rose Garden, the collection of artwork invites students and alumnae to reflect on the College’s 96-year history. And, as Scripps has grown and changed since its founding, Graffiti Wall has served as an ever-developing time capsule. Previous seniors have decorated the wall with commemorations of local, national, and international events, from World Wars and terrorism to Southern California fires and the departure of College presidents.
The year’s muralist is Grace Tomblin Marca ’22, an art and theater dual major. Her design features a pared-down depiction of Elm Tree Lawn and a table with students sitting beneath the trees. Seniors have signed their names in green to represent the trees’ leaves.
“I wanted to find something that would represent the legacy of my class,” Tomblin Marca says. “We were the first class post-COVID to graduate on campus. There are compromises that we’ve had to make, a lot of compromises. But there are a lot of wonderful things that have come out of that. What represented that, for me, was eating on Elm Tree Lawn, which was not a thing when I was last on campus. It’s so beautiful to have this gorgeous place become a campus hub.”
While the pandemic shaped a large portion of seniors’ time at Scripps, Tomblin Marca explains that she didn’t want the mural to have any explicit COVID-19 references. Instead, she sees her design as more of a subtle nod to students returning to campus after eighteen months of remote instruction—a return that happened at the beginning of the Class of 2022’s senior year.
“I think about my last year on campus, a lot of it has been spent on this lawn and kind of getting used to Scripps 2.0 and the rebirth of the campus,” she says. “It’s a pretty unique situation. And this year has been really special, both good and bad, and I feel like I’m kind of holding all those things at once.”
Not every class has taken part in the tradition—at least not during their senior year. The Class of 1972 added its mural to Graffiti Wall just this April, as part of the 50th Reunion festivities. Later this month, the Classes of 2020 and 2021 will finally move their mural designs from the digital to the physical sphere, after the tradition was temporarily put on hold due to the pandemic.
“There was actually no ‘decision’ to omit our wall, but rather were so disaffected that, to my knowledge, the subject never came up,” says Judith Gottfeld ’72, who painted the Class of 1972’s mural at Reunion. The class’s college years were ones of tumult and change, featuring anti-Vietnam War protests, as well as movements to support civil rights and women’s liberation. “It was the time of rejecting authority, of the slogan ‘Don’t trust anyone over 40,’ of making choices by and for ourselves. And I guess our choice was to totally reject traditions.”
Gottfeld explains that the Reunion committee wanted the class’s mural to represent the times she and her classmates lived through. In addition to students’ names—a hallmark of many of the Graffiti Wall murals—the final design incorporates the Kent State shootings, Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ Black Power salute during the 1968 Olympics, the counterculture slogan “Make love, not war,” and the album cover of the Beatles’ Abbey Road. Each of these moments are incorporated within a large peace symbol.
“From comments made by Reunion attendees, we got it right!” Gottfeld says. “Everyone is happy to finally be represented here, and the images were greatly loved.”
Her favorite part of the process, she adds, was sharing her own Scripps experience, and the era in which it took place, with the current students who stopped to watch the painting process. “Listening to them discuss what might be in their mural was deeply moving,” she says. “I felt a deep bond with the whole process of the Graffiti Wall.”
Being selected as the Class of 2022’s Graffiti Wall muralist “means a little bit more than I thought it would,” adds Tomblin Marca. “Both my mom and my grandma went here, and they both have their names on the wall. As it’s settled in that I’m actually going to be making this thing that’s going to last there for X number of years, it’s a nice way to be in touch with that legacy.”