On an average week its color often varies and its message changes regularly, but its presence at Michigan State University is one thing that seemingly remains the same. As a key location for activism, promotion and memorialization – the Rock has become a Spartan tradition almost as solid as the structure itself.
According to research gathered by the MSU Archives, the Rock was donated by the Class of 1873. The archives’ research states, “For the next sixty to seventy years, the Rock remained as it was, untouched, but during the 1940s and 1950s, the Rock would be known as the ‘Engagement Rock.’” If a Spartan wanted to propose, the Rock was a special place to do it.
It was also during that time that the Rock “became a political platform and billboard for various groups.” Students began painting it and the surrounding trees and sidewalks in the area. Therefore, to preserve the natural environment, the Rock was moved from its location near where the Beaumont Tower now stands to its current location in front of the Auditorium in 1985 and the painting has continued for over 30 years.
The Rock’s purpose has evolved during its history at the university, but it seems that painting it continues to be the biggest appeal today.
International relations senior Monica Watt painted the Rock in order to celebrate and promote her student organization, the United Nations Association, last fall. She estimated that the Rock has accumulated more than 10,000 layers of paint over the years.
“The rock means a tradition for MSU students, it’s a way to express our voice like on a billboard without worrying about rules and regulations,” said Watt. “It gets attention and the tradition to guard the rock also allows students to gather and bond over various things.
“It’s become a symbol because it’s a something that can’t be removed easily. And people are willing to guard (it) and paint it so it still is a tradition.”
The university does not regulate a schedule for individuals to paint the Rock. There is no way to sign up for a time or date to paint it, a.k.a. “you snooze, you lose.”
“The unwritten rule about painting the Rock is that whoever is there first at night to paint it can do so, but it’s best to stay with the Rock until first light. If the painters decide not to stay and guard the Rock, any other group can come and repaint it,” according to the MSU Archives’ research.
A recent memorable moment for the Rock was following the Paris attacks on Nov.13 of last year. MSU students banded together to “stand with Paris” and show their support.
Perhaps one of the most well-known paint jobs that the Rock has received was in honor of Lacey Holsworth, otherwise known as “Princess Lacey,” the 8-year-old who was a source of inspiration for the Michigan State Men’s Basketball team in 2014.
After losing her battle with cancer, the community celebrated her life and the impact that she had on the school by painting the Rock for her.
While the Rock has been the basis of many different traditions in MSU history, one thing is certain to never change – the layers and layers of students’ names, logos and missions of diverse organizations and symbols of hope will forever be a part of the structure.