Members of the North Central College community have been choosing tattoos as a way to make their College experience meaningful and permanent.

Feature News

Cardinal Pride more than skin deep


Laura Pohl

May 15, 2020

For these members of the North Central College community, tattoos are meaningful and permanent reminders of their College experience

An Instagram post in late 2019 generated a real buzz around campus. The photo taken by a local tattoo shop showed a perfectly executed likeness of Old Main, with shading so intricate that the representation looked more like a photo than a tattoo.

The proud owner of the striking tattoo is Kurt Anderson ’16 of Naperville, who spent nine hours imprinting his forearm with the iconic symbol of North Central College and Naperville.

The tattoo began with several hour-long planning meetings at UpRise Tattoo in Warrenville. The artist recommended a detailed depiction rather than something simplistic—hence the nine-hour process.

For Anderson, this tattoo and others recently added to his arm represent special memories of North Central, his hometown, his family and international travel. Notably, Anderson only attended North Central for four terms (prior to semesters) before graduating. He now works at Verizon as a supervisor of deployment services. 

“I spent four years at NIU (Northern Illinois University) and then I transferred here to be with my family when my mom got sick,” he explains. “I grew up about a mile away and probably biked through campus about a thousand times when I was young.”

A thorough follow-up phone call from a transfer admission counselor convinced Anderson that North Central was where he would finish his business management degree.

Before his mother became too debilitated to travel due to early-onset dementia, he and his family took a memorable two-week trip to London and Paris. Images of those passport stamps are now on his arm, along with a map of Europe. He still travels every year with his father and sister, most recently to Iceland.

“Coming here to school changed my life, and the trip with my mom was so important to me,” he explained. “The image of Old Main anchors my family and love of travel just as it now anchors all the designs on my arm.”

North Central College alumnus Kurt Alexander shows off his arm tattoo of Old Main.

A reminder of realizing her direction

A pair of ginkgo leaves represent the importance of a life-changing college internship and ultimate career direction for North Central College Box Office Manager Kirsten Kleman ’17/M ’20.  Her internship at the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust Home and Studio in Oak Park affirmed her ambition for a career in non-profit management and her decision to pursue a master’s degree at North Central.

“On the Frank Lloyd Wright property, there was an enormous ginkgo tree,” she said.  “I’d never seen a Ginkgo in person before … but then I learned there are 20 on our campus.”

After her internship, Kleman decided to tattoo ginkgo leaves on her upper leg as a reminder of how much she valued that experience in affirming her life choices—as well as plant life and sustainability. “I am a first-generation college student, and I didn’t always receive a ton of support for pursuing an art history degree at a private college,” Kleman explained. “I come from a family of laborers and miners, so this wasn’t a traditional career path.”

On graduation day from North Central, her brother-in-law added a tattoo on her arm saying “think of good things” in her grandfather’s handwriting from a letter he’d sent her. The letter is now framed above her desk in the Fine Arts Center. “It reminds me to keep my head up and continue working hard and being positive,” she said. “All my tattoos represent my commitment to and respect for sustainability, my family ties, and my career ambitions.”

Kristen Kleman's "think of good things" tattoo.

Inspiring words inspire permanent ink

People who love words often become so passionate they want permanent reminders of those that move them. Megan Paustian, associate professor of English, was inspired by “Angels in America,” a play about the AIDS crisis in New York. She read the play as a teaching assistant at Rutgers University and was extremely moved by the blessing at the end: “And I bless you: More Life.”

“I’m not at all spontaneous about tattoos,” she said. “So I drew the words ‘more life’ on my arm with a marker for a long time before finally committing.”

Paustian had her father’s initials tattooed on her left wrist after he died. “I’m happy to talk with students and colleagues about my inspiration,” she said. “They often get both stories … my arms include reminders of death and life.”

As a professor, Paustian has witnessed students in her literature courses become so attached to certain quotes that they consider tattoos as a way to capture that passion.

Megan Paustian's "More Life" tattoo.

Megan Paustian's "More Life" tattoo.

Meghan Pfister M ’19 read 96 books last year even while finishing her master of arts in liberal studies.

“I knew I wanted to get at least one literary tattoo to express my love of reading and to pay homage to some of my favorite authors like Kurt Vonnegut,” said Pfister, an academic advisor at North Central. “I decided to get the saying ‘So It goes’ from his book ‘Slaughterhouse-Five.’ The way that I interpret ‘So it goes’ is that things will happen in life—not always good things—but life goes on.”  

Her other literary tattoo is the Tree of Gondor from “The Lord of the Rings,” an important book series to her growing up. “I believe that these tattoos represent a strong connection with the arts—Tolkien and Vonnegut were ahead of their time and their literary works represent more than just words on a page.

“I think that tattoos are a fantastic way to express yourself and I love that I have these meaningful symbols and quotes on my body forever.”

Megan Pfister's "So it goes" tattoo.

Megan Pfister's "So it goes" tattoo.

Paying homage to the stripes and celebrating special bonds

Matt Sinnott ’03 chose to “pay homage” to the many wearers of cross country stripes by adding a tattoo depicting a silhouette of a cross country runner wearing stripes and running through the woods. He added the image in 2012.

“Hundreds of alumni have worn this uniform since 1986 and I wanted to emphasize that the uniform has no name, but is identifiable to spectators, coaches and teammates,” said Sinnott, physics and chemistry lab instructor and assistant cross country and track and field coach at North Central. “And the ambiguous face represents all runners in the program … it doesn’t matter whose face it is.”

Friends and teammates Guthrie Hood ’06 and Todd Fonck ’06 got matching tattoos of the iconic Cardinal head during their junior year. The images were placed just below their racing shorts. “We wanted something to represent the brotherhood of North Central running,” said Hood.

Added Fonck: “One of the best aspects of the program is tradition and being connected through generations of alumni. I feel the tattoo is one of those important traditions.”

Matt Sinnott's runner silhouette tattoo.

Matt Sinnott's runner silhouette tattoo.

The tradition of tattooing the block NC logo to represent All-American status or a national championship most likely began in 2009, said Kyle Brady ’10.

“All of us in the class of 2010 said that if we won (DIII) nationals we were going to get tattoos,” he said. “Three of us got them and it continued on for a lot of guys. It’s a way to signify how much the program means to us, practicing twice a day, six days a week. This showcases not only our success, but the brotherhood and how much we do for each other.”

Zach Plank ’16 represents one of many Cardinals who followed in the footsteps of the Class of 2010 when he got a tattoo after placing fourth at the 2015 cross country nationals. “The tattoo felt like a permanent reminder of where I’d come from and what effect I could have on the program ...

“It’s been a constant reminder of how we reach back and pull teammates forward … and of the legacy that North Central continues to uphold. Clearly, the tattoos don’t define that legacy, but for a lot of us it’s great re-enforcement of the values we learned.”

A North Central College block logo tattoo.

Hidden beneath his North Central uniform is a tattoo that reminds Matt Osmulski ’20 of the effort he’s put into his success in cross country. Each of three detailed cardinals represents 5,000 miles of training since high school. “North Central has done a lot for me and opened doors in ways I didn’t think were possible so I wanted something that shows that.” Osmulski, a math major, was so committed to the cardinal design that he researched tattoo artists in Chicago who specialized in birds.

Matt Osmulski's three cardinals tattoo.

After finishing 11th and 40th respectively at the 2019 national championships, Osmulski and teammate Nick Licori ’20 got their NC block logo tattoos, continuing the tradition among yet another generation of runners.

Matt Osmulski's pinstripe logo tattoo.

Matt Osmulski's pinstripe logo tattoo.

Study abroad memories fashioned by piercings

When Kacie Warren ’21 went to Canterbury, England, for a North Central College study abroad program, her piercing tool went along with her. During her travels she added five tiny studs to her ear to represent the countries she visited.

“I wanted to get piercings rather than buying things or taking photos,” explained Warren, a K-12 art education major.

Her first day in England, she asked a new friend to pierce her ear, and she reciprocated. During a 10-day visit to Iceland, Warren asked someone on a tour with her to help hold the piercing tool— her fellow tourist was squeamish about performing the task. In a pub in Dublin, a companion added to her piercings. “We were listening to music on this cute little couch and I said, ‘It’s time!’”

Belgium and Italy are also represented with tiny studs and special stories. During a second study abroad experience in Athens, Greece, Warren pierced her nose at a local shop.

“With each one, I connected with someone to make a special memory,” she explained. “Each represents a story that I’ll talk about for years.”

Kacie Warren's memory piercings.