Mercer is steeped in traditions new and old, from its school colors and mascot to cherished annual events for our students, faculty, staff and alumni. Here are some of the customs and practices that define what it means to be a Bear.

Students watch fireworks during a Pilgrimage to Penfield event.

Pilgrimage to Penfield

Mercer University was established at Penfield, Georgia, in 1833 by Baptists in Georgia. The institution relocated to Macon in 1871 and expanded in 1972 when Atlanta Baptist College merged with the University, creating what is now the Cecil B. Day Graduate and Professional Campus.

Hundreds of students – including the freshman class – celebrate Mercer’s heritage with a pilgrimage each fall to the place where Mercer was born, the Penfield campus in rural Greene County. There, they find the original university chapel, the foundation of the first University academic building and a cemetery with the gravesites of Jesse Mercer as well as a number of University presidents, trustees and institutional leaders.

Pilgrimage activities include a picnic, fireworks, student presentations and historical re-enactments on the grounds of the original campus.

The Jesse Mercer statue on the Macon campus.

Jesse Mercer's Statue

Jesse Mercer was among the most influential of the University’s founders. Statues of Jesse Mercer sitting on a park bench are situated at the center of both the Macon and Atlanta campuses.

First-year students mark the beginning of their academic careers at the University by processing across campus to Willingham Auditorium for Convocation. By tradition, it is considered good luck for them to rub Jesse Mercer’s head as they pass by the statue.

To mark the conclusion of their academic careers at Mercer, seniors process back across campus to Willingham Auditorium for Baccalaureate on the eve of graduation. They again rub the head of Jesse Mercer, this time seeking good luck in their futures beyond Mercer. For both occasions, bagpipers lead the students, and Mercer faculty line the sidewalk to show their support.

Signatures are shown covering the staircase and walls inside the tower in the Godsey Administration Building in Macon.

Climbing the Tower

The spires of the Godsey Administration Building on the Macon campus have been the most significant symbol of the University since Mercer moved from Penfield to Macon in 1871. The tower in the tallest of these spires is mentioned in The Whisper of the River by Mercer graduate Dr. Ferrol Sams. The novel is a largely biographical account of the author’s years as a Mercer student in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

For almost 100 years, students have been climbing that same tower and leaving their signatures. Most sign their names as freshmen, while others climb the tower later in their college career or as alumni. Signatures can be found on the walls, doorframes, floors, ceilings, banisters and pillars on the way up to the tower and inside the tower itself. Sams' autograph is located on the Kappa Alpha Order wall.

Mercer cheerleaders and Mercer dance team members cheer as Mercer band drummers play on campus during Homecoming 2018 festivities in Macon.


Since moving from the spring to the fall semester in 2008, Homecoming has become a popular tradition at Mercer. Homecoming Week begins with a variety of student activities and culminates over the weekend with a pep rally, fireworks, special events for alumni and friends, awards and the Homecoming football game.

The Mercer choir sings during the 2018 Founders Day program inside Willingham Chapel.

Founders' Day

Founders’ Day began in 1891, 20 years after the University moved from Penfield to Macon, as a celebration centered on Jesse Mercer’s birthday. Mercer’s two competing literary societies, Phi Delta and Ciceronian, each brought in a speaker to honor the heritage of Mercer and its founder. Founders' Day remained a significant annual event for Mercer for the next 40 to 50 years and had different formats, ranging from political events attended by state governors to all-day historic celebrations. Interest began to fade in the 1950s, and the event had been removed from the University calendar by the late 1960s. The Student Government Association revived Founders’ Day in the mid-1990s. Now, a prominent Mercerian is invited back to the University each year to share how Mercer has influenced his or her life.

Mercer professors Dr. Carol Bokros and Dr. Jeff Hugdahl read a holiday story in front of decorated Christmas trees during the Christmas tree lighting event at Willingham Hall in 2018.

Christmas Tree Lighting

This holiday tradition, hosted by the Student Government Association, annually draws more than 500 students as well as faculty, staff and their families to Willingham Hall or the grounds outside it. The Mercer Singers lead the audience in carols, the University Minister offers a Christmas meditation, and a faculty member entertains the audience with a traditional Christmas reading. The event concludes with the lighting of the Mercer Christmas tree and the serving of cookies and hot chocolate.

Mercer mascot Toby stands on the football field.

Mascot and School Colors

Prior to 1924, Mercer’s nickname was the Baptists. The mascot officially became the Bears after a vote by the student body, although the University’s athletic teams drew that label decades earlier. According to the late Steadman Vincent Sanford, a Mercer graduate and former chancellor of the University of Georgia, the Bears reference originated in the first football game played between Mercer and Georgia in 1892. In those days, athletes wore long hair and sported handlebar mustaches. As a brawny Mercer lineman charged down Old Herty Field in Athens, where that game was played, a bemused spectator asked, “Whence cometh that bear?” The name stuck. In a 1949 contest sponsored by The Cluster, Mercer’s campus newspaper, students voted to name the bear mascot Toby. Students assigned the name Tot to the female bear mascot. Mercer’s school colors are orange and black.

Mercer Alma Mater

On the city’s western border,
Reared against the sky,
Proudly stands our Alma Mater
As the years roll by.


Forward ever be thy watchword,
Conquer and prevail.
Hail to thee, O Alma Mater!
Mercer, hail, all hail.

Cherished by thy sons and daughters,
Mem’ries sweet shall throng,
Round our hearts, O Alma Mater,
As we sing our song.

Repeat Chorus

Mercer Fight Song

Hail to thee, the best school in the land!


Come all ye loyal sons and daughters,
Ring out the victory song!
United all each foe we’ll conquer
The battle now will not be long.


The Orange and Black is
proudly flying,
Like a sign high in the sky!
That leads us on in triumph,
For Mercer we will live and die!

In basketball, we’ll place her name ahead of all the rest.
In scholarship, when put to the test, she is the very best!
Hail to thee, Mercer University!
Hail to thee, Mercer University!
Hail to thee, the best school in the land!

Repeat Refrain
Repeat Chorus