It is the small gold and black elevation on the center of Marsh Plaza with the Boston University coat of arms and the school’s motto – Learning, Virtue, Piety – written on it, and most people walk by it on their way to class, the library or the George Sherman Union.
But walk on it, and you will never graduate, or so goes the legend.
Like many other legends, its origin is fuzzy. No one, it seems, knows exactly from where it came.
“It just seems like one of those fun campus things,” said Marsh Chapel Associate Dean Rev. James Olson. “There are not a lot of those here – probably because the campus is fairly new. [The university] has only been on the Charles River Campus since the 1950s.”
Olson said the seal, made of black stone with bronze writing, was part of Marsh Plaza’s original construction.
According to Kathleen Kilgore’s history of BU, entitled “Transformations,” Marsh Chapel and its stone, flagged courtyard were completed in 1949 at a cost of nearly $1 million. Through BU’s tumultuous history, the plaza often served as the gathering site for various protests, speeches and dedications.
Whether being stepped on by student radicals, students heading to class or worshippers visiting Marsh Chapel, the BU coat of arms on the center of the plaza represents a mysterious piece of BU history. Its legend, according to several BU alumni and current students, has been passed down through generations of students who thought twice about where they put their feet while making their way through the plaza.
But BU spokesman Colin Riley offered superstitious students some reassurance.
“I don’t believe that it has prevented anyone from graduating,” he said.
Some say the tale may have trickled through peer advisors passing the myth to their freshman advisees. College of General Studies sophomore Elizabeth Newman said she heard about the seal myth from her advisor.
College of Arts and Sciences freshman Roberto Martinez also said he heard about the legend during orientation and has avoided walking across the seal ever since.
“That is so stupid,” said CGS sophomore Chris Evans, as he stood with fellow CGS sophomore Peter Szymanski.
“I skate over that thing all the time,” Szymanski said.
CAS senior Stephanie Fallarme said she has successfully avoided stepping on the seal for four years. With only a few weeks left until graduation, she said she will make sure not to jinx herself.
“Most of my close friends know about it,” she said. “When we walk together, we try to avoid it.”
BU Public Information Director Michael Ciarlante, an alumnus himself, said he has yet to step on the emblem. The 1979 graduate of the College of Communication said he remembers the seal story as one of several myths upperclassmen told freshman during his days as an undergraduate.
Tales like that are common, and Ciarlante recalled another tall tale in which seniors told freshman living in Warren Towers about a secret tunnel connecting the dormitory to the College of Arts and Sciences. After paying $25 to the crafty upperclassman, Ciarlante discovered that such a passageway did not exist.
But Gina DeSalvo, senior regional manager for alumni relations, may be living proof that the seal myth is nothing more than an old wives’ tale. DeSalvo said she stepped on the emblem during her BU days and graduated twice, first from COM in 1998 and later from the School of Education in 2001.
“I never put much though into it,” she said of the rumor.
But despite evidence to the contrary, the BU myth may continue to be carried on by students fearful of putting an end to their academic future with only one step.