In 2016 the Madison Society placed the University Seal on the Quad.

At the bottom of the Quad, before the Forbes Center Tunnel in the intersection where several paths cross, sits the University Seal inscribed with JMU’s Alma Mater. JMU’s website says students avoid stepping on the seal as a sign of respect for our Alma Mater. A list of JMU’s traditions suggests that students believe stepping on the seal to be a harbinger of bad luck, especially during finals week. 

Not listed on JMU’s website, known solely by word-of-mouth, is this: Legend has it that if you step on the seal, you won’t graduate on time.

Dave Barnes, the director of the University Unions on campus, founded the Madison Society in 2010. The Madison Society develops and supports the creation of positive traditions on campus, including but not limited to: the Spirit Rock, “Smooch the Pooch” (where people kiss the Duke Dog Statue for good luck), the All Together One awards every spring and the words of Madison in the Forbes Center Tunnel — “knowledge will forever govern ignorance” — which used to be bare concrete.

Around 2016, Barnes said in an email, the Madison Society, with support from the Alumni Office, placed the University Seal on the Quad. The group discussed among themselves and polled JMU’s students at the time to decide that they wanted to create a tradition of respecting the seal and what it stands for.

The quote on the seal says, “While friends remain within our hearts and knowledge guides our way, James Madison will lead us on to conquer each new day.” Students are meant to walk around the seal out of respect for what it proclaims: the pride of being a Duke.

Barnes had never heard of the graduation myth. It seems to be a superstition born out of respect for the seal, which developed into a fear of bad luck should one step on it, which evolved even further into the superstition many students fear today.

Of course, not everyone knows about this superstition. Plenty of people step on the seal every day, who presumably go on to graduate just fine. 

But for those who’ve heard of the myth and lived in fear of stepping on the seal, I’m here to put a stop to this rumor once and for all.

It was February of my freshman year. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, I made the trek from Shorts Hall — the little-known Lake Area dorm right beside Eagle Hall — all the way to Anthony-Seeger Hall. I’d managed to steer clear of the seal thus far, mostly because I saw other students routinely avoiding it, but it was just days earlier that I’d learned our reason for sidestepping it. A classmate had told me about the myth on our walk to class.

Whether by ignorance, lack of attention or the general sluggishness that came with being awake before 10 a.m., I managed to forget the myth entirely and plant the upper half of my left foot squarely on the seal. I leapt back to safety, horror-struck, but the damage was already done. I could feel where I’d stepped on the seal like a brand on my foot. 

Several times over the years, I thought that horrible myth might come true. My sophomore year, my mental health tanked so dramatically that I debated dropping out. But I chugged through it and refound my love for JMU just before the start of the pandemic sent us all back home.

Not to worry — I was getting good grades and was ahead on my credit requirements. Too ahead, I would learn my senior year. I was all set to graduate a semester early, which was something I was wholly unprepared for. It hit me in that moment: If I graduated early, technically, I wouldn’t be graduating on time.

For various reasons, but mostly because I couldn’t bear to start my real life any earlier than I’d planned to, I decided to stay for an extra semester and take classes just for fun. I still had one graduation requirement, after all, which was the zero-credit, end-of-semester SMAD assessment.

Then came the last — and biggest — scare. With none of my classes acting as graduation requirements, financial aid would no longer cover them. My options were limited: I could scrounge up the money to pay for the semester, or I could drop out of school for a full refund. 

The only problem was, I needed to stay enrolled to complete my last graduation requirement. Otherwise, I would have to stay an extra semester just to take a zero credit class, and I couldn’t bear to start my real life any later than I’d planned, either.

Ultimately, I managed to find the money and complete my last, unnecessary semester at JMU. Despite the hardships of mental health, poor class-planning, financial struggles and the ever-lurking knowledge that I’d once stepped on the seal, I’m set to graduate in just 10 days. 

At this point in time, I’m passing all of my classes. I’ve taken the last of my final exams. The stars are aligned and it looks like nothing can stop me now.

Let my story act as proof that you can step on the seal and still graduate exactly on time, that is unless some absurd tragedy befalls me and I don’t make it to graduation. Otherwise, I made it. 

Dukes, fear not. If you accidentally step on the seal, you can still graduate just fine. Avoid it not because of a superstition, but out of respect for what it represents.

Contact senior media arts and design major Jillian Carey at For more editorials regarding the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the opinion desk on Instagram and Twitter @breeze_opinion.