Gryphon Society celebrates 60th anniversary

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This year marks the Gryphon Society’s 60th anniversary, and on Oct. 28, Gryphons from past years were invited back to Lehigh to meet and share their stories with the new generation of Gryphons. Students and alumni reflected on the impact Gryphons have had at Lehigh for more than half a century.

In the spring of 1957, several first-year counselors proposed the idea of forming what was then known as a “living group.” It would later become the Gryphon Society that exists today.

Beall Fowler, ’59, one of the founders of the Gryphon Society, recalled the motivation behind the idea as partly social, but they also wanted to improve their role as freshmen counselors. Counselors were not allowed to join fraternities, limiting their participation in social events.

“Several of us thought that we were a bit isolated from each other,” Fowler said. “We were living with freshmen, but we wanted to be able to do things with people in the counseling program.”

Though the Gryphon Society has grown and transformed since its early years, Fowler said the significance of the role that Gryphons play on campus has never wavered.

Gryphons are named after the mythological creature that guarded treasures and priceless possessions. They are considered the protectors of Lehigh’s treasure — the next generation of students.

During the 60th anniversary celebration, Ricardo Hall, the vice provost of student affairs, addressed the intergenerational group of Gryphons seated before him.

“The significance of what you do as Gryphons cannot be overstated,” Hall said. “You shape the lives of students, whether you know it or not.”

This responsibility to students has been invariably carried down from year to year, regardless of the institutional changes that Lehigh has undergone. One of the most pivotal was the admission of women in 1971.

Sybil Fischmann Stershic, ’75, was part of the first class of women admitted to Lehigh and also served as one of the first female Gryphons.

She described the experience of being one of the first women on a previously all-male campus as “like living in a fishbowl.”

“Not everyone was accepting of women on campus yet, including upperclassmen and faculty members,” Stershic said. “It was difficult for some students because they weren’t used to competing with women in the classroom.”

Stershic said her experience as a Gryphon was tremendously helpful in finding her place on campus. Because the female Gryphons were such a tight-knit group, being a Gryphon gave her a sense of belonging and provided her the opportunity to help first-year students acclimate to campus life.

“It was an honor to be part of the Gryphon Society,” Stershic said.

She said her biggest takeaway from the experience was the bond she made with her freshmen residents and the lasting relationships she formed with her fellow Gryphons.  

This bond that the Gryphon Society fosters among its members was one of the motivations behind its founding, and the society continues to provide a sense of pride and community for Gryphons today.

Eden Weinflash, ’17, a graduate assistant in the Community Service Office, said being a Gryphon became a part of her identity at Lehigh. For her, the Gryphon Society was a place where she always felt welcomed and accepted.

“It was how I identified myself and in a sense I still do, even though I’m not a Gryphon anymore,” Weinflash said.

Though Fowler, Stershic and Weinflash were Gryphons at varying points in the society’s timeline, each agreed that being a Gryphon taught them invaluable skills and helped them make meaningful connections.

Stershic said being a Gryphon allowed her to hone her ability to listen and to know when to step in and step back. Weinflash learned the balance between being a friend to her residents and enforcing the rules, a difficult task for many Gryphons.

Troy Egar, ’19, a Gryphon in House 87, said being a Gryphon is meaningful regardless of when a student holds the position.

“Being a Gryphon means to build community,” Egar said. “It means providing a safe place for everyone, an inclusive community where everyone can feel welcome, be themselves and really just enjoy Lehigh.”

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1 Comment

  1. David R Phelps on

    Everything said in the article is very true. The friendships I made with fellow Gryphons have proven everlasting, and I recognize and am thankful for how my experiences as a freshman counselor have benefitted me to this day. The one thing missing from the article is the significance of the vision and leadership of Dean Clarence B. Campbell in shaping the counseling program and the Gryphon Society. His contributions cannot be understated.

    Dave Phelps ’62

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