Birth of the giant W


Each year during freshman orientation week, staff and students from all walks of life come together to form a giant W on the quad—a tradition which has had a short history at Webster, and requires careful planning to execute.

Webster’s First Year Experience Director Justin Barton worked as a recruiter at Jefferson College in Hillsboro. The school first formed their initials in 2009.

Barton brought the idea to Webster in 2010, and by the new student orientation of 2011, the tradition took its first steps.

Barton said that the measurements that can fit up to 500 students, the designs of which were contributed by alumna Emily Bahr.

These measurements are used to scale the giant W up or down to accommodate for the population of incoming students. This allows project coordinators such as Bahr to use space as efficiently as possible for a tighter looking W, thereby producing a higher quality photo.

Since then, Webster has repeated the undertaking each year, modifying only the color of student shirts and the cheer performed by the students.

Barton expressed his wish to have the incoming students simply spell out “Gorlok” each year.

“We’re trying to make that permanent,” Barton said.

The Gorlok has made an appearance in the photo each year, along with University President Elizabeth Stroble.

“We only have 30 minutes to get the picture,” Barton said, also noting that quickly organizing a such large group of people presents difficulties. For that reason, Barton said that he hands the task to his orientation coordinators, which include C. Wiley, Brittany Merchant, and Livy Renkins.

Senior English major Brittany Merchant, who served as a New Student Orientation Special Projects Coordinator, said the construction of the W was complicated this year.

“My supervisor (Barton) had some leftover spreadsheets of how it was supposed to look and all the dimensions of the W, but what I found out is that the measurements were all wrong, and were way too small,” Merchant said. “So, we had to do everything from scratch.”

Merchant said she was relieved to learn that spray paint would be used to mark where they intended to put stakes down for measurement during practice runs, so that they could do things as efficiently as possible on picture day.

In spite of the occasional roadblock, Merchant said the tradition of forming the W has a positive impact on all incoming Webster students.

“It’s a way for new students to leave their mark on Webster, especially the transfers, too,” Merchant said. “For them to see the pictures of themselves cheering on the quad is very heartwarming in later years, especially when students wind up graduating. They get to look back on their W photo and be like ‘I’m right there, that little dot in the middle of 500 people.’ It means a lot to the students, and I know it meant a lot to me as a freshman.”

Merchant said he believes that the tradition will continue to have a place in the future of the university.

“I don’t think this is something that administration will ever take away,” Merchant said.

For students seeking to claim a copy of their giant W photo, they can do so by visiting

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