The annual Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry strengthens school pride by pitting the two colleges against each other in friendly competition. For some students, the game serves as a crossover of friends and family at the opposing school.
Elen Karagulian, ‘24, and her friend Kaitlyn Hilley, a senior at Lafayette, met at a summer sleepaway camp in upstate New York before college. Karagulian said they got closer from spending a lot of time on the water as lifeguards and boating counselors.
Hilley was a freshman at Lafayette when Karagulian committed to Lehigh. When Karagulian told Hilley, Karagulian said she forgot about the connection between their schools.
“When I told her I was going to Lehigh, she said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re gonna be right next to me. We’re gonna be rivals,’” Karagulian said.
Karagulian said there aren’t many people from her hometown who attend schools in the Lehigh Valley. Seeing Hilley a couple times throughout the school year brings a sense of home and family to Karagulian’s college experience.
Last year, the two friends saw each other at the Le-Laf game. The Rivalry game serves as an opportunity for them to reunite, and Karagulian looks forward to seeing her again this year.
The game was specifically memorable for Karagulian because it was the first time she was able to experience Le-Laf traditions she missed during her freshman year because of COVID-19 restrictions. She said she is excited to see what new celebrations this year brings to the rivalry game.
Karagulian said maintaining old friendships in college can be difficult, especially when you make new relationships.
“Le-Laf helps make that effort for me because it just brings us together automatically,” Karagulian said.
Gia Occhiolini, ‘23, and her boyfriend James Giffin, a senior at Lafayette, also see the game as an opportunity to see family — but in different ways.
Occhiolini and Giffin met in high school and started dating during their senior year. Giffin has been at Lafayette for almost four years, but Occhiolini started her journey at Lehigh more recently.
Occhiolini transferred to Lehigh the spring of her sophomore year from Penn State. She said she wanted a liberal arts school that was closer to home.
On top of attending Lehigh, Occhiolini has another personal reason to root against Lafayette.
“Lafayette denied me twice, so I was like, Lehigh all the way,” Occhiolini said. “Fun fact, because nobody can believe that I got into Lehigh and not Lafayette.”
Giffin is considered an honorary Lehigh student by Occhiolini’s friends at school. Giffin spends a lot of time with Occhiolini and her friends at Lehigh and attended a tailgate with them last year.
Occhiolini and Giffin use Le-Laf weekend as an opportunity to bring their families together.
This year, both families plan to have another joint tailgate, but this time on Lafayette’s territory.
Usually, the couple has a joint dinner with both of their families and tailgate together, making Le-Laf more significant for them beyond just a game to attend.
Charlotte Harobin, ‘26, is a Lehigh student with generations of Lafayette alumni in her family.
Her parents met at Lafayette, and her grandfather, aunt and some cousins all attended Lafayette. Her brother, Tate, recently graduated from Lafayette and her twin sister, Lucy, currently attends.
The sisters’ college lists were very similar. The biggest difference was Harobin applied to Lehigh and her sister didn’t even consider it.
Harobin said she and her sister are very close, so their family thought they might attend the same school, but they did the opposite.
Harobin said she chose Lehigh over Lafayette because of its larger student population and its newness. Having such a strong connection to Lafayette, she was already familiar with the school and wanted to spend the next few years somewhere different.
Although the sisters are close, neither cared about if they attended the same school or not.
Harobin said her parents are glad that their daughters live so close to each other, making it easy for them to all see one another.
The first time Harobin visited her sister at Lafayette, she said she found a cut-up Lehigh flag in her dorm room.
“I don’t think I’d be allowed back in the house if I was vandalizing everything Lafayette,” Harobin said.
Harobin said her mother has anti-Lehigh banners from years ago posted online. When she announced one of her children was going to Lehigh on Facebook, her Lafayette friends joked in the comments.
“She showed me how all of her Lafayette friends in the comments were like, ‘Are you kidding? I’m so happy for her, but are you kidding me?’” Harobin said.
Being the only Lehigh student in a Lafayette-filled family, Harobin is hoping for a win this weekend to fight back against the Lehigh jokes.
“Honestly, I just really hope we win for the sake of my Thanksgiving and all the comments,” Harobin said. “I’m sure it will become ammunition for whoever wins or loses.”