Tattoos of PSU: The Stories Behind Our Body Art

Tattoos are often a sort of rite of passage into adulthood.  Turning 18 and getting a first tattoo is many people’s first adult decision, and when you’re permanently marking your body, you want to make sure that it’s something you’re going to like for a long time.  Here are a few stories from Penn State students and alumni about their tattoos and the meanings behind them.

Alyssa Welfer
Photo from Alyssa Welfer

When asked about the key tattoo on her arm, Alyssa Welfer, a PSU alum, says it “is for one year of no self-harm! I was in an abusive relationship and then got away and went to therapy and stopped self-harming! It was really hard for me because I put so many coping mechanisms up [and] now … I’ve been two years without self-harm.”

Elie Wagner

Photos from Elie Wagner/ posted by @eliewag on Instagram

Elie Wagner, a Junior in Global and International studies, talks about two of her tattoos, saying, “the sunflower on my arm is around my birthmark and … I was always made fun of for it to the point I was so insecure I wouldn’t even wear a t-shirt unless it covered up the birthmark or I put a bandaid over it. Anyway, now I’m super confident and don’t even think twice about it.”

She then goes on to describe the band around her arm, which says “you are heading for a land of sunshine.” She says, “it has a lot of pieces … it was a fortune from a fortune cookie and I read it and cried and it was so special because I’ve been struggling so much, and also my dog’s name is Sunshine and she’s my happy place.”

Lewis Yeaple
Photo posted by @lewihan on Instagram

When asked about his tattoo, Penn State alum Lewis Yeaple simply says, “[the] tattoo is partially to remind me to not be complacent but mostly [that] I’m on bonus life.”

Ian Cunningham
Photo via Ian Cunningham

Ian Cunningham, a Sophomore studying Psychology, talks about the theme of his tattoos. He says:

So to start, my tattoos, both current and future, are centered around a space/nautical theme. That’s mostly because of the fact that we (at least I) will never know how much is out there, under the deepest parts of the ocean, or even thousands of light-years away. It’s the beauty of that–essentially acceptance–that is meaningful to me.

He then goes on to describe the meaning behind his compass tattoo:

If you’re out at sea, or even in space, you need some guidance as to where to go. I got this shortly after being diagnosed with anxiety, which finally put a name to something I struggled with for 9-10 years prior. The compass is placed on the ribs, closest to my heart. The cliche meaning is to remind myself to follow my own heart and try to not let your mind get clouded with judgment, but it also serves as a stability point. No matter what, a compass will always point north … No matter what, everything will somehow work out as long as I keep going. I purposefully asked the compass to be broken cause I don’t have perfect control of my anxiety. Realistically, I don’t think I ever will, but I have plans for down the road to add onto it–to make it feel more like it’s my own compass rather than other people’s compasses. The idea of that is to show that every journey I take–physical, emotional, mental, etc.–will be different.

Griffin Gonzalez
Photos from Griffin Gonzalez

Griffin Gonzalez, a junior studying Civil Engineering, talks about the tribute tattoo he has to his mom, saying:

My mom and I were both sick for a while and we spent a lot of time together and we talked about everything under the sun. She made me promised her I would never put another girl’s name on my body in ink unless it’s my mom because Mom comes first.

After she dropped me off for freshman year of college I wrote on my arm in sharpie a design just like this until Thanksgiving where me, my dad, my brother, and my uncle all went to our tattoo guy and he inked this for me and we all surprised my mom.

VALLEY thanks everyone for sharing their tattoo stories and applauds the beautiful art that is featured here!


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