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The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News


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Getting the Spirit Rock: “It’s harder than you might think”

The Spirit Rock, freshly painted by EIU Pride on June 6, 2024. (Aidan Cusack)


Eastern’s campus seems to stand still in the summer months.

There is no hustle and bustle of students, no athletic events, no line at the deli (thankfully).

Somewhat mirroring this stillness, a big, blue chunk of rock, backdropped by the MLK union, sits in a patch of grass overlooking the East entrance of McAfee Gym. 

This big, blue chunk of rock is Eastern’s newest student initiative, dubbed “the Spirit Rock”. The five-ton boulder was put there with direct oversight from Eastern’s president, Jay Gatrell. 

The Spirit Rock is meant for students to share painted messages. These messages could be anything from support of an upcoming football game to support for their student organizations.

Regardless of what students paint on the rock, the spirit rock exists to foster a communal spirit on campus. 

When the summer months retreat, and fall comes with students arriving back on campus, the Spirit Rock is expected to be significantly less still. In fact, those who created this initiative expect the Spirit Rock to drive student engagement.

“I always want to think about, how do we create a landscape that students want to engage in,” said Gatrell. “So, when they walk across campus, they are inspired to engage with each other. Painting a rock is one way to do that.” 

Gatrell originally shared the Spirit Rock idea in April 2024, at a meeting with Easterns Greek Life community. After Greek Life showed their support for his idea, the president went about the process of getting a rock. 

This process required a bit of problem solving, as Gatrell put it, “It’s harder than you might think.”  

He began with a search for an appropriate stone. 

“For one, I had to find a rock that was big enough for people to paint on it,” said Gatrell. “Then, A rock that was flat enough that you could paint something meaningful, on multiple sides. And then, we had to physically move it there.” 

The parameters around finding Gatrell’s ideal stone were tight. He couldn’t transport a rock that was too far from campus, as (unsurprisingly) the logistics of shipping boulders can get expensive. 

This meant the president had to start his search in Charleston. 

“I emailed a couple of local businesses saying, ‘where did you get your rock’,” said Gatrell. “I went out to look at rocks at various businesses. The folks at Adam’s monuments here in town had that rock.” 

Adams Monuments is a stone cutting business located in Charleston. Using donor resources, the president was able to purchase his dream rock from Adams. After purchasing, another problem needed to be solved: transportation. 

Gatrell modeled Easterns Spirit Rock after a similar boulder at the University of Toledo, likewise named “the Spirit Rock”. Toledo’s rock was donated in 1968 by Nicholson Concrete and Supply Company. Their rock weighs almost eight tons. 

While the Spirit Rock in Charleston is significantly lighter than its counterpart in Toledo (about three tons lighter), the logistics of getting the rock to campus was still troublesome. Fortunately for Gatrell, Adams Monuments offered to move it. 

The final issue was where the rock was to be placed. Gatrell, along with other campus leaders, searched for a good spot to put the rock. According to Anne Flaherty, the Vice President of Student Affairs at Eastern, their options were limited. 

The group knew it couldn’t be in the South Quad. That area of campus is frequently used by students. As Flaherty put it, “We don’t want anyone running into the rock playing frisbee.” 

The rock also couldn’t be in the Library Quad, has that is a free speech zone. The rock is intended for students to build support for student organizations and spread positive messages. It isn’t necessarily for sharing political views. 

That left one option: the North Quad. Gatrell had some criteria on where the rock should sit, and there was only one spot on campus that aptly fit his vision, where the rock sits today. 

The panther statue is from the students of Eastern Illinois University of the past, present and future the commemorative court yard (Gunnar Olson)

“I wanted to make sure that the rock was in a location that prospective new students would see, to show that there are RSOs on campus,” said Gatrell. “I also wanted a space that is highly trafficked, for safety reasons.” 

Gatrell hopes that the rock will grow to become a cherished tradition among Eastern students and alumni. 

“Building tradition is critical,” said Gatrell. “One of my favorite things that have happened since I’ve arrived here as provost (2017) was the Panther Statue. That Panther Statue was constructed in 2018, and very rapidly what evolved was a tradition around exams.” 

Gatrell is referring to the “offerings” given to the Panther Statue in the weeks leading up to finals.

“Which is fun, it’s lighthearted,” said Gatrell. “I think it’s a great tradition that students can be involved in and co-create that space. Tradition is critical because we need to connect people with each other. It’ that common experience, that shared experience, that institutional context that makes universities unique.” 

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